Today’s guest post comes from Beth, who shares her experiences of A&E staff’s attitude towards people with mental illness.
Trigger warning: This post includes topics such as suicide attempts and self-harm. If you feel you will be triggered or upset by these topics, please do not read any further.
“If you’ve ever been in a mental health crisis, chances are you’ll have ended up in A&E. It’s sad that it’s the only place to go out of hours as it really isn’t the best environment to be in during a crisis. The staff aren’t always the most helpful and although there are some really lovely nurses, doctors and HCAs, they don’t always say the most helpful things.
I used to be in and out of A&E for my mental health, mainly after overdosing. The routine was simple. Go to A&E, get booked in, see the triage nurse, have bloods, wait for the psychiatric liaison team. The majority of the time, I’d just be sent home. A few times I got admitted to my local psychiatric hospital.
I once took an overdose in the toilets at college. I told my friend what I had done and she told me to go to A&E. I got the bus there because I didn’t really feel the need to ring an ambulance. I booked myself in and was told to go straight into the nurses’ station. It was a Tuesday morning so A&E was pretty quiet.
I was put into a cubicle and various people were taking obs, all of which seemed to come back pretty normal. I fell asleep and eventually, a doctor came in. He was asking all the usual questions. I had just woken up and was finding it pretty difficult to answer him, especially as he was asking ‘why have you done this?’ I told him it was self-harm. He asked how long ago I had done it and I told him that I’d done it about an hour ago in the toilets at college and my friend had told me to come up. He then preceded to tell me that I had done it for attention and there was no point in treating me because my blood results would come back normal and then I would go home.
I was in a really dark place at the time. I was having lots of suicidal thoughts and felt awful. This comment sent me into overdrive. He left the room and I started crying hysterically. The curtain was open and in the time I was in this state, no one came in to ask if I was okay. I went up to the nurses’ station and asked if I could put in a formal complaint about the doctor. One of the nurses took me back to my cubical, told me he wouldn’t have said that and kept telling me to calm down. The doctor came back in the cubical and started having a go at me. I was angry and upset and kicked off. I’m normally quite calm when it comes to dealing with health professionals. I get that they are just humans who are there to do a job, but his attitude towards me tipped me over the edge.
The doctor stormed out of the cubicle, followed by the nurse. I was stuck in A&E, on my own, worried I had damaged my kidneys and upset and angry by the way I was being treated. Health care professionals are supposed to be caring, treat you with respect and dignity and act professionally. He certainly ticked none of those boxes.
As A&E got busier, I was moved into a seated waiting area. Eventually, the doctor came and saw me to give me my blood results. I ended up apologising to him for kicking off. I shouldn’t have kicked off at him but the situation could’ve easily been avoided if he hadn’t have angered me and treated me better. Even to this day, I still feel stupid for apologising. I didn’t get an apology for his comments so why should I have to apologise to him? The blood results came back normal but I was told to wait.
At some point, I was seen by psychiatric liaison. I didn’t want to see them; I didn’t ask to see them. The referral was put in without my consent and they told me that if I had left without seeing them, they would’ve rung the police, despite me having capacity and not being a risk to myself or others. After all, it was self-harm, not a suicide attempt. They briefly spoke to me and in the end, the mental health nurse was even mocking me saying ‘you best hurry up home, don’t want to be late home from school’.
This whole experience has completely put me off going back to that hospital in a mental health crisis. From the doctor to the nurse to the psychiatric liaison. I have been back to that hospital three times since this incident (not by choice) and every time I go, I get scared that I’m going to encounter the same members of staff I saw that day. Luckily, I haven’t and two of those three times have been fine and I met some lovely nurses.
I really think more training needs to be given to A&E staff regarding mental health. A person is more than just their physical health. It’s staff like those mentioned who put people with mental health issues off from seeking help.”
A note from me (Hazel): I think it’s important to recognise that whilst it is clear that more training would improve the quality of care provided by A&E departments for patients with mental health issues, it is also vital that no one is put off from attending A&E during a mental health crisis. If possible, take an advocate with you (for example, a friend or family member); someone who can speak to professionals on your behalf, and ensure that your wellbeing is taken seriously.
A huge thank you to Beth for sharing her experiences with A&E staff.
If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this piece, please see below for some useful links.