Content warning: this article mentions suicide
It’s been around two months since I phoned my GP and asked for a mental health assessment. Since then, I’ve had multiple appointments with a mental health practitioner, and on his advice made a self-referral for therapy.
I’d forgotten how horrible the assessment process for mental health support can be. There were two assessment phone calls – the first lasting 1 hour and 40 minutes, the second taking 40 minutes. Every aspect of my past suicide attempts was asked about, I was asked about anything I’d spoken to a mental health professional about (from symptoms of psychosis to eating disorders, self-harm to harm committed to me), significant moments of trauma going from childhood to present day. I was asked about being homeless, the accommodation I moved into following that, jobs I’ve had, relationships with friends, relationships with family, relationships with partners. My physical health. Everything.
I never felt like I could refuse to answer a question. I was worried I’d be considered “non-compliant” or not ready for therapy if I said I didn’t want to brush against those scars. And so, I talked about things I’d never spoken to anyone about, to this voice on the phone, this voice who was documenting and judging what I was saying, this voice who was reopening wounds but wouldn’t help me to patch myself up afterwards.
There are two questions I was asked which I haven’t been able to stop thinking about:
- Were you ever arrested as a result of your suicide attempts?
- Do you regret your suicide attempts?
The first plays on my mind because… why was I asked that?? What relevance does it have to future treatment?? I’ve asked a few people since about that question and none of them have ever known it be asked. Which makes me wonder if it was on a form or was it that person asking for their own curiosity?
Question two – that I think about because, honestly, I don’t regret them. They have all got me to this point in my life. They are part of who I am. If I went back in time, I’d act the same way in all bar one of the attempts. I came off the call reflecting on saying that and worried about whether it meant safety plans and risk assessments were now being drawn up, about whether I should have lied, about what the ‘correct’ answer was.
Those phone calls drained me. I hung up feeling exposed and bruised. I cried. And then I got up, made a drink, got some biscuits and went back to work. I wondered if feeling this way was worth it to get help – should the process to find treatment make me feel so vulnerable?
Fast forward a week. I’m in London for five days with my fellow reporters. I have two phone calls due – one with the assessment person, one with the mental health practitioner. The assessment call comes late. Over an hour late. They have decided to refer me to another team for treatment, this will require at least one more assessment.
The second call came late too. This time I have reporters waiting with me as they need me sort out money for them to eat later and to top up Oyster cards. Luckily it wasn’t a heavy conversation but, in an ideal world, I would have been able to reflect afterwards and compartmentalise what we chatted about. A lesson learned in planning appointments.
And now onto today. An hour ago, I had my appointment for the latest assessment. It was nothing like before. It was forward looking – the questions were about how life is now, what I have that makes me get up in the morning. We did have to spend time talking about why I made that call to start this process in first place, which meant talking about the last decade. Then I was asked if they could wave a magic wand, what would my life look like. This is, roughly, what I said:
“I wouldn’t always feel like I still have to be braced to fight anymore. I would be able to go to sleep without being afraid of what I would see in my dreams. I wouldn’t feel like I could become homeless again in a heartbeat. The past would let go of me. I’d be able to relax and enjoy my life. I’d feel safe.”
Last week I got a phone call saying the person who did my last assessment had to go on maternity leave suddenly, my case still hadn’t been taken to MDT and the notes she had made didn’t make sense – when was I available for another assessment? And so I had my fourth assessment. I was crushed but thought this would be the end of it – I’d get presented at MDT then finally get placed on a waiting list
I was wrong
The MDT meeting established I was right for their service and now I will require an assessment with their therapy lead. While that happens they are putting me forward to get help from a mental health and wellbeing coach: waiting list 20 weeks. They didn’t know how long it would take to get the therapy lead assessment
At the end of that call I was annoyed. It seems ludicrous that this process is happening. I’ve had more than my share of talking treatments in the past and I’ve never had to get over so many hurdles to get onto a waiting list.
The longer this process goes on, the more concerned I become that my employers will lose patience – each of these assessments and phone calls takes so much out of me and trying to manage that on top of what has led me ask for help in the first place is crushing me. There is talk of me having another course of EMDR and I don’t know if I could manage that alongside working full-time. Then what?
I worry that it will take months to get to a waiting list and then there is a potential 12-18 months to get to the top. I rent in a “popular” area and should I have to move I may not be able to stay here. That means beginning this process all over again. It is making me consider if any of this is worth it. I can cope with how I am so do I just accept my lot and give up trying to get help?
Why is this so hard?