This is the latest post in a series looking at the impact mental health services can have when they are working well. The writer powerfully describes how a range of staff and services have worked together to support her over a number of years.
“So where do I start? Maybe with the fact that I’m one of the lucky ones – and I know it, I really do. So I’d like to speak out; to recognise the properly-professional professionals. I‘m talking about Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership, and the STEPS Eating Disorder Service based at Southmead Hospital in Bristol.
My mental health experiences started with the GP I chose at random to ask for help, Dr Anthony. She listened and gently questioned and got on the phone there and then to make a referral to the eating disorders service and CMHT. She explained what was going on, reassured me I was doing the right thing and took the time I needed. Years later, she’s still my GP and I trust her implicitly – even though I don’t always like the decisions she makes.
Then there were the two CPNs who first assessed me. One from the ED service (Pete) and one from the community team (Stan). They were humorous and human and they made a difficult conversation bearable. The whole meeting was filled with respect and compassion. You should know, too, that I was assessed just over a week after that first GP visit. And that the next week Pete became my CPN, and we started weekly appointments. That patient man – who had, no doubt, heard it all before – helped me better manage my weight and get to the point where I was ready to engage with services. For the past ten years the eating disorders service has been there for me, sometimes stepping back while I had therapy from CMHT psychological services, but always ‘keeping tabs’ on me. Always there. Outpatient, inpatient, day service. I guess they fight for me when I can’t do it for myself.
I’ve known the lead consultant psychiatrist, Hugh, for about eight years and have seen him regularly throughout. He even stepped in to be my care coordinator at one point, so that I would have continuity of care. Talking to him is a kind but frank reality check – and it’s often been the conversation that helps me make a smart decision or carry on with a hard treatment plan. He knows me and remembers what works for me – and what doesn’t.
And then there are the ED ward staff who were respectful and dedicated at all times. People going through re-feeding can’t think clearly and, when emotions kick back in, they’re unpredictable and bloody hard work. I know: I’ve been one of them. The ward staff, without exception, were firm, fair and uncompromising in supporting me in eating again. I didn’t like all of them. We had run-ins and I couldn’t talk to some – but that’s life. Throughout, though, they all did their best for me and treated me with compassion and respect.
Still with me? Good, because now I’m moving on to how psychological services have made a difference to my life. Pete helped me recognise what I was dealing with, but it was psychological services that helped me uncover and come to terms with my past. Two years of weekly one-to-one hourly appointments with Mo revolutionised how I saw things, getting me to the point where I admitted myself to the ED ward. And I’ve been having weekly one-to-one art therapy for over two years now. Sarah is intelligent, empathetic and extremely skilled. Oh, and patient! I finally feel I’m getting somewhere.
Knitting all this together for me is my amazing care coordinator, Hayet. The woman is a human dynamo and tireless in seeking out solutions to problems – and yet she also makes time just to listen. She, too, doesn’t shrink from the hard decisions, but she has always seen me as a person rather than just a case. My CMHT team need recognition, too. Stan ( remember him?) kept me company in this lonely journey for a while. The life experience he brought to our conversations and the way he guided me through such hard stuff was genius. A mix of skill and instinct, I think. I still miss talking to Stan.
There are others, too. A staff grade CMHT psychiatrist who does much more than dole out pills. The ED service dietician who listens to what feels manageable, and works with that. And people whose names I can’t even remember from the crisis team, who listened patiently, debated the meaning of life when I needed to – and tried to make a meaningful connection at all times. They also did their best to send the same team members and tell me who was coming.
It hasn’t all been rosy. A useless care coordinator who thought the fact we both had children created a bond, and didn’t carry out basic undertakings. The consultant psychiatrist who rummaged through my emotions like a burglar through a knicker-drawer.
But look at the whole – all these brilliant MH professionals have saved my life and made sure my children still have a mother. To all these incredible people and all the other good guys out there – please don’t be disheartened by all the people speaking out about their poor experiences. We all need to hear about when people are being failed by the system – we need to hear and act upon it – but we also need to embrace the positive experiences of when it all goes right. So thank you. Thank you very much.”
You can follow Alexa on Twitter @AlRedboots