When you are struggling with a mental illness, especially for the first time, it’s disconcerting to know how long waiting times are to get the ongoing psychological support that you are told you need.
The first time I’d heard of CAMHS (child and adolescent mental health service) was when I was put on a 6 month waiting list as a 14-year-old, having just been diagnosed with clinical depression by my GP. I was also prescribed an antidepressant (10mg of fluoxetine- a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) despite it having side effects of suicidal thoughts most common in under eighteen.
When my CAMHS appointment finally came, the medication had kicked in, and I was left going over parts of my life that I wanted to forget. I was well into my recovery, but the nature of this appointment (because of such a delayed waiting time) was as though I’d only just been diagnosed. The initial appointment included my parents, which was just awkward and unhelpful. They offered me a course of CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) which I declined because I was feeling well in myself and felt that another young person in similar shoes would appreciate it and benefit from it a lot more than I would. In hindsight, perhaps I should’ve accepted this course as it may have equipped me with coping mechanisms to challenge those negative thoughts, should they make a return. I also took myself off medication a couple of weeks before the doctor was going to, as I didn’t want to have to take medication to make me feel happy.
I didn’t know anything about depression, if I’m honest, so genuinely thought it was something you just had once and recovered entirely from (of course this is the case for some people). I soon found out the hard way that I was wrong.
As soon as I felt that same black cloud enveloping my life when I was 17, I went straight to the GP, who referred me to CAMHS once again, and also prescribed fluoxetine (20mg this time) within the next few days. I ended up in A&E after 4 days of starting medication, because of self-harm. I had to wait for six hours to be seen that night and it pained me to see other patients with physical injuries being attended to before me because the Mental Health team was separate. I got seen at 1 am in the morning and had a 45-minute assessment with the psychiatrist on duty. She said I could stay overnight in the hospital if I didn’t feel safe going home, but there were no beds in the Adolescent Mental Health Unit, so I would have to be in the children’s ward, where I’d be watched the whole time. I decided to go home because the thought of that scared me.
The following day I was called by the CAMHS crisis team and had around 3 appointments with them. These appointments consisted only of keeping myself safe, and not helping to explore the underlying issues as to why I felt like this in the first place. They helped me to cope with the physical action of self-harming, but not the emotional reason, as to why I was doing it. I was released by this team after my third appointment because it was a sunny day, and I was in a good mood.
I then had weekly appointments with a ‘Mental Health Worker’ either at the CAMHS building or at my school. I didn’t get on with her, and I was certain she had no idea how I was feeling and did very little to try to understand it.
We didn’t delve into my problems, just scratched the surface with pre-planned questions. I started a new medication, which left me with strong suicidal thoughts (I later found out from a senior psychologist that I had started on a dose too high) so was taken off again.
I was not offered any CBT or psychological therapy, and my appointments were becoming more and more frustrating, distant and few and far between. When my 18th birthday came and went, I received a letter in the post saying that CAMHS were not able to continue to support me. I had been told all throughout my ‘treatment’ that they would keep seeing me until I had finished school 3 months later, then pass on my care to the Adult Mental Health Services. But instead, I was left with nothing. I got by on my own, with the support of those closest to me, but no ongoing professional help meant a relapse was highly inevitable.
I had been wearing a smile to hide so much pain inside me, and I cracked in October 2017 whilst in my first term at University. I once again approached a doctor who prescribed me fluoxetine, which was becoming an all too frequent occurrence. He also referred me to the Head of Mental Health at the Uni.
I was falling deeper and deeper into a downward spiral and it felt as though there was nothing anyone could do to help. I was self- harming every night all over my body and had strong suicidal thoughts. One day, I didn’t feel safe leaving my friend, so she took me to A&E where we had to wait for 7 hours to be seen. I prowled around that waiting room, clearly under a lot of stress, whilst dozens of people with minor physical injuries shimmied into the triage room as I waited. I was told the case before me was a complicated one, and that’s why I had to wait so long to be seen by the Mental Health team. The two men that sat in front of me after an intense 7-hour wait was red-faced and sweating. They didn’t seem to have any interest in me, and when I began to cry, they asked if I wanted to sit outside to compose myself for 15 minutes, despite the stupidly long wait. I refused to wait any longer.
When I’d explained my strong suicidal thoughts of overdosing on the bottle of fluoxetine, one of the psychiatrists said,
‘You do realise that quantity of medication won’t kill you if that’s what you want to happen.’
The other guy told me he wanted me to come up with a way to help myself, that they weren’t prepared to give me answers. So, as instructed, I came up with the idea of giving the medication bottle to my friend to keep safe and prevent me from overdosing (this put a tremendous amount of pressure on her though!). I got home from A & E at 4 am that morning (having spent £30 on a taxi home) feeling no better off, and feeling frustrated and disappointed that I’d been let down by the services once again.
The only option I had left was the Head of Mental Health at the Uni, although this appointment only finally came about because of frantic emails from my lecturers and football coaches who were becoming increasingly concerned about my wellbeing. I sat with this man for two hours with my head slouched on the table for much of it. It felt like I was running out of time. I told him bluntly but honestly that I didn’t feel safe leaving that room. He called the Community Mental Health team in the neighbouring town, and he accompanied me in a taxi there to be assessed. It was concluded that I needed more regular support, so a crisis team was arranged to come to my house every day.
They came between two-hour slots, which wasn’t ideal, but it was bearable. The first day they were meant to come between 10:00-12:00, but I got a phone call at 12:08 saying they would now come between 15:00-17:00. Little annoyances like this all add up when you are already in a bad place. Every day a different person came, which made building a relationship, thus opening, up hard. One lady just left me one day, having been in my house for 10 minutes, because I had my head on the table when I looked up she was gone. There I was alone again.
On the Sunday of that first week with crisis intervention, no one came to see me because they were short-staffed and I wasn’t on the high priority list. They were supposed to call me instead, just to check in, but surprise surprise nobody did. I was in a horrendous place that day. I was overly anxious about everything, and by the time the evening drew in, I was suicidal. I was in my car in Tesco carpark for hours and hours. I feared that if I went home I would take the 40 paracetamol tablets had bought a few days before, so I stayed put. Unsure of what to do or who to contact, I texted one of my coaches, who recommended I called an ambulance for myself so I was safe. I followed his advice and called one for the first time in my life. I was told they couldn’t send anyone out (despite me saying I would overdose if I went home) and that they’d get a duty doctor to call me within 2 hours. Again, I was left on my own. Sitting in my car in Tesco carpark, I just didn’t see the point. I got out after a while and stood by the road facing death head-on. I thought about what speed the cars were travelling at, whether I would hurt the driver by jumping in front of one, and mostly I wondered what the hell I needed to do to get the help I was screaming out for. By the time I got back in my car, and the two hours was up with no calls, I drove back home. Luckily I was in such a state of physical and mental exhaustion that all I did when I got home was sleep, despite the paracetamol mocking me all night long. When I woke up, I had a missed call from a private number (which I assume was the duty doctor) from 6 am, this was 8 hours after I had initially called them. Anything could’ve happened to me during that time.
The following day, I had a doctor from the crisis team come see me who listened to all that I said, and immediately admitted me as a day patient at the Mental Health Unit. This was the first time I’d received the level of support that I needed. I was there for three weeks and did okay. I started new meds, I overdosed on it and was taken off it again. I think I came across fairly well externally so when I was discharged I knew I was still internally broken and hurting. My care coordinator was supposed to ensure that I had continuity in my support leaving the hospital, but as well as leaving it 8 days before I first saw her following discharge, she was then off ill for 3 weeks, during which time, none of her colleagues took responsibility for my treatment. I rang up, clearly concerned, and was told they could no longer support me as I’d moved back home from Uni (just 20 miles up the A1) because different counties meant different NHS funds. So I had gone from acute care in the hospital, to absolutely nothing within the space of a few days.
This is when I reached my lowest point. I was done with being let down and just couldn’t deal with it anymore. I planned my suicide one night, wrote a letter to leave behind, and went to bed truly believing that the following day I would take my life. No professionals knew I was in that situation, as no one checked up on me.
Luckily, something stopped me that day, and I immensely grateful that I am still here to tell my story. I had to go through that alone, and I don’t want anyone else to ever have to experience the inconsistency and unreliability I have.
I now struggle to trust mental health professionals because I had faith in them but was left at my most vulnerable, and I fear that happening again.
The people I owe my sincere gratitude to are the ones who stuck by me on those darkest nights and who helped to guide me to the light. These are the people I continue to rely on because it’s just not safe to rely on the mental health services.
Maison de Choup Contributor
Maison de Choup recommends reading - The Unseen Battle
Maison de Choup is proudly partnered with 2 Mental Health Charities. If you yourself are suffering or know someone who is suffering and need someone to talk to please follow the links below:
YoungMinds - Child & Adolescent Mental Health
The Shaw Mind Foundation - Creating hope for Children, Adults and Families