How Covid-19 limited my access to mental health support

07/07/2020

Trigger Warning: This blog references self-harm and suicidal ideation - for advice and information on either of these topics, please see the links at the end of the article.

On Monday 6th July, our campaigner, Karen, spoke to a group of MPs about her experience of mental health services during lockdown. In this speech, she called on the government to act now to provide crucial extra funding so that experiences like hers never happen again. Here’s her powerful story.

I have a diagnosis of Complex Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, Anxiety and Depression and before lockdown occurred, I was seeing my care coordinator once a week and my psychiatrist once a month. All of a sudden, this stopped.

Lockdown restrictions meant that a decision was taken to move to phone calls with the care coordinator only. But this process wasn’t explained to me. I rely on knowing what is arranged as part of the structure needed to cope with the everyday and I find phone calls extremely difficult in times of crisis. It’s harder to communicate how I’m feeling, harder to raise problems or correct misunderstandings; and I find myself either too emotional to speak or silent due to anxiety.

  • It meant that when I needed serious help, I was ignored and left feeling as if I meant nothing to services.

It meant that when I needed serious help, I was ignored and left feeling as if I meant nothing to services. I needed support with my medication - I had been on a high dose of medication for around 4 years but at the time of lockdown my medication was in the process of being changed, as I had been experiencing worrying side effects with irregular heartbeats and severe dizziness. My psychiatrist told me to stop taking it completely over the phone and said that he would send a request to my GP to carry out an electrocardiogram (ECG) to check my heartbeat and he would then prescribe a new medication.

I did not get this appointment until 8 weeks into lockdown. I later discovered the original request had never been sent to the GP. Even after I eventually did have the appointment - the results of which were clear - I still heard nothing from my psychiatrist. No new medication was issued. My mental health quickly deteriorated.

  • 12 weeks went by without any medication despite persistent calls from myself, other professionals and my daughter (who is my young carer).

12 weeks went by without any medication despite persistent calls from myself, other professionals and my daughter (who is my young carer). My daughter was increasingly having to deal with my inability to cope with everyday life. By this time I was experiencing crippling anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicidal ideation.

During this time I was admitted to hospital twice due to physical health issues. Both visits made me feel extremely anxious. The crisis team were alerted after I had a panic attack and left the hospital before having an X-ray I needed. But after explaining my medication issues over the phone they tried to put me through to my care coordinator, even though I explained they weren’t working this day. I just wanted to see someone.

It was only after the second traumatic visit to the hospital that we finally got somewhere. My daughter spoke to a ward nurse who alerted someone from the hospital mental health team.

After my medication was finally sorted, I was made to feel like the mishandling of my situation was my fault. My notes said that I had only been without medication for 2 weeks and that I didn’t want to take the medication due to side effects. That was not and is not true.

Painfully, it feels like there is no redress when it comes to poor mental health services. I have felt rejected by services in this period through a total lack of communication made worse by inaccuracies in my notes – but I have been made to feel like it is my fault, my mistake, my worthlessness.

  • I have been made to feel like it is my fault, my mistake, my worthlessness.

I hope the government will reintroduce face-to-face consultations as soon as possible, meaning that services could more easily see when my state deteriorates and become a potential risk to myself. But it’s also important services don’t just return to normal.

The issues I have experienced during lockdown are issues that, I believe, do exist in normal times but have been exacerbated due to lockdown.

The poor service that I, and others like myself have received, clearly shows why the funding which was promised in the NHS Long-Term Plan needs to be provided as soon as possible.

After speaking to MPs and decision makers, I hope they will be moved to act and make mental health a priority post-lockdown.

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