"It's good to talk"

About: North Staffordshire Combined Healthcare NHS Trust / Adult mental health

(as the patient),

A conversation. That’s all it would take for me. Someone to tell me that they understand how I feel. That the mass of emotion welling up in me is normal. That I’m normal.

It doesn’t sound like much to ask from a community mental health team. After all, they’re qualified. They know what their talking about.

Trying to change lifelong patterns of behaviour is no mean feat and giving up self harming is one of the biggest challenges I’ve ever faced. I have had help and I have had support. The plan of action: before I act on my thoughts to self harm, I contact my community mental health team (CMHT). There lies the problem: at the same time as this I’ve also been taught distraction techniques and that by putting off self harming and delaying it for a few hours the number of cuts on my arm will be reduced.

So before calling anyone I distract myself. I try not to think about it. ‘Make a cup of tea’ they say. ‘Watch TV’. ‘Do some exercise’. So I do. But I can never distract myself for longer than the thoughts are present. Inevitably I get to the point when I’m all distracted out. So I stick to the plan. I call the CMHT. Their advice? Most of the time, it's to try distracting myself and call back later if I feel no better.

Now I’m not expecting miracles. As much as I wish it wasn’t true, I do know that they don’t actually have a magic wand to wave which makes everything ok. But some understanding? Some empathy? Some time to talk? Is it really that difficult?

Some staff take the time to talk you through how you are feeling but there are others who seem to want to get you off the phone as soon as possible. My biggest concern is the weekend closure of the bedded units in the area. Is anyone able to offer any reassurance that this situation will improve given the new changes? Or is it more likely that staff will have less time and will be more stressed and therefore more keen than ever to encourage me to just rely on making a cup of tea as a distraction?

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Response from North Staffordshire Combined Healthcare NHS Trust

Thank you very much for your posting and apologies for the delay in responding. You explain your difficulties and the difficulties with the CMHT most clearly. I wonder if what is needed is some more discussion with the CMHT and your Care co-ordinator to make very clear to everyone what is needed when you ring up the CMHT. It sounds as if the team gets it right sometimes but not always. If you can let us know which team you are dealing with I can forward my thoughts to them.

Best wishes

Dr Christine Leaman

Clinical Director

Update posted by lizzie82 (the patient)

Many thanks for your response.

With regards to my own care I have already raised the issue with the manager of the CMHT in question. Ironically my experience has made me much less likely to contact services out of hours as I feel that I cannot rely on them to provide the listening ear I need. Nor do I feel they can provide consistency. This is true in 2 ways: firstly the out of hours staff have no knowledge of my situation which necessitates my going over everything again and secondly the reaction when I have mentioned self harm has been very different depending on who has happened to answer the phone. Like you say some people rightly recognise the need to talk things through and others have just seemed to panic and have threatened to call out ambulances and the police.

My concern with regards to this posting is for those others who perhaps haven't been able to articulate their concerns with the out of hours service (and I know of many). Can there be any assurances for them that they will be given the time and support that they need from suitably trained staff outside of the hours of 9 til 5?