A WOMAN who tried to take her own life after being failed by the NHS has called for a radical overhaul of how mental health issues are dealt with.
To mark World Mental Health Day (today), Harriet Ernstsons decided to speak out about her eight-month ordeal in which she repeatedly appealed for help only to be let down by the services she was relying on.
The Church Hill resident had previously suffered episodes of anxiety and depression as a child and about two years ago but towards the end of October last year her condition surfaced again.
After seeking help from her GP, the Standard’s deputy editor was referred for Cognitive Behaviour Therapy – which aims to change the way people think and behave through talking – but during her second appointment she was told she had become too unwell during her four months on the waiting list and was referred to the Community Mental Health Team (CMHT).
“I felt absolutely trapped in a bubble of panic, worry and despair. My loved ones were telling me I would get through it but all I could focus on was the multiple panic attacks a day I was experiencing and the fact some days even getting out of bed was impossible.”
After spending a night in A&E following a severe panic attack, the 24-year-old was seen by the CMHT and after advising them she had purchased tablets to overdose on, she was told an urgent referral would be made to a psychiatrist and all she had to do was keep herself safe for two weeks and ‘we will do the rest’.
But when Harriet chased up the appointment after waiting a fortnight, she was told no such promise had been documented in her notes or would have been made. She was advised to go to her GP or A&E. On the same day Harriet was found by co-workers unconscious in bed after a severe panic attack, she was informed by the CHMT they had made the referral and considered she did not require any extra support.
On May 30, Harriet took an overdose and was admitted to A&E where she was told a mental health professional was not available but she would receive a phone call the next day. No one called. Three days later Harriet took another overdose with almost fatal consequences.
After failing to attend work, a friend broke down her bedroom door and found Harriet unconscious. She was rushed to A&E and after spending three days in the Alex, she was admitted to Hillcrest where she finally got the treatment she needed.
Harriet, who is also chair of Redditch Mental Health Action Group and deputy editor of the Standard, said it was only down to her friends, family and the staff at Hillcrest she was still alive.
“After months of asking for help I felt like every door had been shut in my face and my only option was to try and take my own life.” she said.
“In the end it was probably the best thing I could have done as it enabled me to get the help I needed but it sends a terrible message to people with mental health issues you have to try to take your own life before any action is taken.”
Worcestershire Health and Care NHS Trust has written to Harriet and are also meeting with her.
A spokesman said they took complaints and issues raised seriously, were committed to learning from any identified shortcomings and staff worked extremely hard and were committed to providing the best care and treatment they could.
“But clearly where someone’s opinions fall below what we would hope we need to understand the reasons for this. This includes carrying out a thorough and honest assessment of the service provided to the individual (and their family or carers) and checking whether it met the high standards we expect.
“It is important to note in the majority of cases our Community Mental Health Teams across the county, including teams based in Redditch and Bromsgrove, get really positive feedback from those who use its services.”
Why I decided to share my story by Harriet Ernstsons
SHARING my story in the Standard was something I did not have to think twice about. The voices of those with mental health issues so often go unheard so taking every opportunity to raise the issue is something I feel passionate about.
What is even more tragic than the stigma and ignorance which still surrounds the topic is the failings of professionals to take each and every case of mental illness seriously.
It disgusts me – and I do not believe disgust is too strong a word in this instance – those who do feel able to ask for help can be turned away or left without support.
As chair of Redditch Mental Health Action Group (MHAG), I have heard time and time again of people feeling like they are being shoved around or even unable to access a poorly-designed system and experiencing it first-hand has only made me more determined to speak up for others in the same situation.
Already being at your lowest, to then be chasing up people after being promised the world and given nothing is unbearable. Doors are shut in your face and this only adds to feelings of worthlessness, helplessness and hopelessness already associated with mental health. As much as your support network try to help you, if you need professional help there is nothing in the way of medication and therapy they can provide.
There are thousands of people living in Redditch who are suffering from mental health issues, if even a handful of those are being let down by being locked out of the system then that is a crying shame.
In times gone by, those with mental health issues were shipped off to sea. From what I’ve experienced, the health profession is still metaphorically doing exactly that.