Iam a police officer in an English police force and I’d like to apologise for the lack of support we can offer to people facing mental health problems. Cuts to NHS mental health services in recent years have put mounting pressure on the police force to pick up the slack and we aren’t trained or prepared to deal with it.
Recently I went to the home of a person who had been putting large lacerations across their arm, bad enough to need a couple of stitches, but not bad enough to bleed out. A friend had made the call to 999.
We stood in the living room in some kind of stalemate – my partner and I, the injured person who was self-harming and their friend. We tried to convince the person that things aren’t so bad, and that they can be fixed. Only now I’m not so sure they can be.
What can I do in a situation like that? I don’t have the authority to arrest someone in that situation and I can’t attempt to section them as they do not lack capacity. I would ideally like to call an ambulance or a mental health team but they simply aren’t available.
In the end I just had to sit for an hour or so and talk to them until I convinced them to come with us to A&E. It’s not a perfect solution by any stretch – the local A&E is at breaking point and, because of police cuts, if I commit to transporting someone I leave only one car in the area to respond to callouts. But what choice do I have?
There is also an increasing frequency of callouts that do not need to be attended by the police at all. There is one person, for example, who has mental health problems and calls us regularly about fictitious groups of people with masks, hiding in the bushes.
We still attend to make sure they are OK and that it isn’t a bunch of local teenagers scaring someone with mental health issues. But once again there will be nothing there. They will call again and we will attend – just in case it might be an emergency. The person has been waiting months for an initial mental health assessment and they are getting worse while they wait.
All I can do is attempt to convince them that we’ve checked the bushes and that everything is fine. I’ll have a quick chat about whether they have contacted their doctor and they will tell me they are still waiting on an appointment. They don’t have any friends or family to rely on and even if they did, how much could they do?
I feel sorry for the person I arrested recently who had caused criminal damage because they didn’t have the mental health help they needed. I know it is distressing for them – and their relatives, too.
I tell them that they can shout at me all they want, while two of my colleagues put them in the back of one of our cars and I try to explain what’s going to happen next. I know they have refused to take their medication, it’s been getting worse and nobody at the hospital has done anything.
The NHS is as understaffed as we are, especially in mental health. The control room staff who dispatch ambulances frequently say they are at “surge black” – the second highest level after a major incident.
Paramedics will do their best to get to us, but if someone is contained and being watched by police then they are considered safe and it could be several hours until they arrive to assess them and take them to hospital.
I can’t leave someone alone to wait for an ambulance, so if they are cooperative, calm and haven’t committed a crime then we just have to wait together. Once the ambulance crew is here they are free to go with them. Unfortunately, if someone has committed a crime or is being violent then they are going into custody either way. They can be watched in custody; they will be safe, can get some sleep and be assessed by our in-house mental health team in the morning.
But now the team only has the time to prioritise the most serious cases, so if someone puts on a reasonable show of being all right, they will likely just let them go. They will face charges for what they have done. And if next week they become distressed again and cause criminal damage or assault someone again, we’ll start the cycle all over from the beginning.
I’ll make the same referrals, I’ll take the same steps to try to make sure that person and those around them are safe and I’ll make the same apologies. I hope the situation improves, I really do.
Jamie Buchan was enjoying family time with his mum and twin brother in his hometown — but less than 20 minutes later, he had taken his own life.
Now, his bereft mum Elayne said she finds it hard to accept what happened and refuses to believe that her son — who had a range of complex mental health issues — meant to kill himself.
Speaking at the family house in Forfar, Elayne said that it was during “five minutes of darkness” that everything went tragically wrong.
She said: “I really don’t think Jamie meant to die that night. He was excited about things he had planned for the coming weeks.”
However, Elayne also feels strongly that her son was badly let down by mental health services with “too little help coming too late”.
Jamie had battled with health conditions including cerebral palsy, deafness, ADHD and severe OCD since he and his brother Andrew were born 12 weeks prematurely.
Elayne said she also knew her son was autistic although he was only diagnosed by doctors two weeks before he died.
She said: “They refused to confirm that because they said they didn’t want to give him another ‘label’.”
Elayne said Jamie, who was also a brother to Kevin and Kyle, went to school in Kirriemuir and later worked at McDonald’s in Forfar for five years, a job she said he loved.
He also attended Dundee and Angus College. She said it was the death of his dad David, two years ago after a 10-year battle with cancer, which led to Jamie’s condition deteriorating.
She said: “Things got very much worse after David died.
“Jamie reacted very badly — he refused to open his eyes, he wouldn’t look at anybody and he became quite delusional.
“Very upsettingly, he also began to say he was going to kill himself. I don’t think he really meant it. I think he wanted to test our reaction to his threats.”
On the night Jamie died, Elayne had gone to Bar 10 in Forfar because Sex Pistol star Glen Matlock was to be there. She was joined by Jamie and Andrew.
Elayne said: “Jamie loved to meet as many celebrities as possible. The boys stayed for a little while then walked home.
“Jamie put on a DVD and went to make some noodles for his supper and it was then it happened. Andrew discovered him in the garden and phoned me quite hysterical.”
Elayne said she dashed home but it was too late. She said: “It was less than 20 minutes since they had left me. I don’t believe he meant it to happen. You don’t make your supper and then decide to take your own life.
“I’m so lost without Jamie and Andrew is beside himself.”
Jamie’s funeral will be held at the Lowson Memorial Church, Forfar, today, followed by the burial at Kirriemuir’s cemetery.
People in attendance have been asked to wear purple — Jamie’s favourite colour — or odd socks, which Jamie always wore.
A spokeswoman for Angus Health and Social Care Partnership said: “Our thoughts are with the family at this difficult time. Due to patient confidentiality we cannot discuss matters relating to individual patients.
“However, with any sudden or unexpected death we would review the care and treatment received by the patient with the involvement of their family and we would encourage the family to share any concerns they may have with us.”
Every four weeks, like clockwork, I file a repeat prescription request for five separate medications.
I take four tablets every morning, two every night, and another two as and when my illness flares up. How to talk to your child about mental health Without them, I’d be unable to function day-to-day. I wouldn’t be able to work, look after my kids, or have any sort of social life. Worse, my life would be in grave danger. And yet, research shows that a significant proportion of the population believes I don’t need them and shouldn’t be taking them.
Because these medications aren’t treating a physical illness, but an illness of the mind.
According to a review published in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease in 2011, people associate the use of psychiatric medication with emotional weakness and an inability to solve problems, and dispute that antidepressants actually have any therapeutic effect.
But there’s no doubt in my mind that my mental health meds have saved my life.
Five months ago, I spent five weeks in a psychiatric hospital, my mental health having deteriorated to the point that I wasn’t safe at home.
While I was there, my meds were changed. A new one was introduced; the dose of another was increased. Fast forward to now, and my mental state is, on the whole, reasonably stable.
There are still ups and downs, but thanks to my medication, the downs are shorter lived and more manageable than they were. Yet apparently, most people would say that I don’t need them; that I’m emotionally weak for taking them; that any benefits are purely a placebo effect.
I’ve seen these attitudes in practice. (Picture: Getty Images – Myles Goode) Friends and family have asked, ‘Are you still on meds? Any news on when you can stop taking them?’ The implication is that mental health medication is somehow ‘bad,’ and the sooner I can stop taking it, the better. But I’m most definitely not coming off my meds any time soon.
In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ll be on them for the rest of my life – and that’s OK. The negative attitude to antidepressants strikes me as yet another example of the stigma surrounding mental health. No one would question the need of a diabetic who needs lifelong insulin, or of someone with epilepsy who relies on anticonvulsants, so why should it be any different for mental health medication? I’m as reliant on my meds to stay healthy as people with physical illnesses like diabetes, heart disease or asthma.
I won’t deny that there are things I dislike about being on long-term medication. MORE: HEALTH Cheese and salami are apparently the best foods for your teeth Extroverts are more likely to have good nights’ sleep Bigger breasts and increased sex drive?
PMS isn’t all bad and here are a few reasons why They’ve made me gain weight, and their sedative effects mean I struggle with tiredness on a daily basis. There are also questions about their impact on physical health in the long run, which means I have to have regular blood pressure and cholesterol checks.
But despite that, I’ve no intention of discontinuing any of my meds either now or in the future, unless my mental health stabilises to the point where my doctors feel it’s safe to try – and even then, I’d have reservations. I’m in my late 30s now, and if I’m still taking them when I’m 80, so be it – because, put simply, they’re keeping me alive. And why, after experiencing the terrifying reality of a mental health crisis that I almost didn’t survive, would I do anything to jeopardise that?