Waiting for Mental Health Care

Waiting room
(Anthony Asael / Art in All of Us / Getty Images)

Do you need help? Ask for help. Do you need help now? Get in line.

In The Guardian, journalist Hannah Jane Parkinson responds to the many empty refrains encouraging mentally ill patients to just ask for help — a beyond-frustrating suggestion “when you’ve been asking for help and not getting it.”

There is a poster in my local pharmacy that exclaims, “Mental health can be complex – getting help doesn’t have to be!” Each time I see it, I want to scream.

I used to blame the system. Mostly it is the system: those never-ending cuts and closures; the bureaucracy; the constant snafus of communication; the government’s contempt for staff.

But sometimes, that system gets inside the staff, too. It is there when you are asked the same questions by 20 professionals, in a time of great distress, and then reprimanded for anger when you snap the 21st time. It is there when you are asked to fill out a form to assess a service, after being told you won’t receive that service until two birthdays in the future.

The waiting. The offers of therapies that aren’t suitable because there is nothing else. (Throwing a ball of wool to one another in a circle might be helpful for some people, but it absolutely wasn’t for me. I knew it wouldn’t be. But I gave it a go.) The being matched with a therapist who, through no fault of her own, is unsuitable (you have friends in common) but who you don’t ask to change because you know there isn’t another. The 10-minute GP slots that take weeks to secure.

After the sectioning and the 22-hour wait, there was a hospitalisation out of borough. Upon leaving the inpatient ward, there was a two-week stay at a crisis house (which helped), then that was it. I was ill enough to be sectioned, but well enough to have therapy discontinued. I was put on an 18-month waiting list for therapy. I called iCope, an NHS digital therapy service, but because I was on a waiting list, I was ineligible.

It took me about 16 weeks to get back to work – much longer than it should have done – because I had to clamber from a well without ropes. I would run into GP surgeries, suicidal; the receptionist said he would “pass the message on”. I sat in the consulting room, sweater over my head and howling.

Since I was sectioned, I have been hospitalised twice, once after a suicide attempt. I am still on a waiting list, a different one: this one is two years long. My friends and family simply do not understand the delay, cannot believe it when I tell them about the system. So, clearly, the Conversation isn’t as illuminating as it thinks it is.

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