May 25, 2016

Can someone please take me to hospital?

I can’t quite remember how I ended up there, but following an incredibly intensive period of high productivity and creativity (something I was later to understand as classic bipolar type II disorder) I sat at the bottom of the stairs completely and utterly suicidal.

It’s really hard to try and describe what it feels like to be suicidal to someone who has never been there. It’s the most utterly devastating and destructive darkness you can ever imagine. One moment you can be trucking along just fine and then the next moment your entire world can suddenly become a vast vacuum that turns everything of worth and value in your life in on itself.

It’s almost impossible to put into words how logic itself becomes meaningless as every fiber of your being is overtaken and drowned in the horrendous nothingness. Nothing makes sense anymore; there is only the complete and utter pain of your existence coupled with the last meaningless and futile attempts of your dying will as it tries so desperately to fight against the endless barrage of negative voices telling you to end it all.

I fought for as long as I could, trying to reason with the unreasonable darkness but in the end I just couldn’t do it anymore. I reached for my phone and typed in one simple sentence, ‘can someone please take me to hospital.’

No smiles, no hugs…just a call to social services

My lifelong friend, Daniel, came to collect me. We have known each other since we were kids at primary school and he was the best man at my wedding. I climbed into his car and as we set off I cried the whole journey to the hospital.

‘Name… address…DOB…?’

It’s not quite the response you expect when you tell someone that you feel like killing yourself. Having been here before in my life (once in my teens, another time in my early 20s), I guess I was still holding out for a shred of human kindness. In all honesty, I genuinely believe to this day that if the woman at the A&E reception had stopped what she was doing, stepped out from behind her computer and given me a hug, then the whole experience might have been different.

As it was, I waited 3 hours to see a nurse who’s first questions was, ‘do you have any children? If so we will need social services to call home to check they are ok…’ No smile, no hug, no words of comfort, just the automated collection of data and the cold application of the procedural protocol we call ‘safeguarding’.

Why do you want to kill yourself?

When you finally get to see the Duty Psych, there are a whole host of more procedural questions you have to trawl through. To answer these I was taken in to a dimly lit and soulless room. I remember there was a lifeless watercolor hung at a jaunty angle on the wall. There were also spots of blood on the floor. After hours and hours of waiting, the offer of a cup of tea would have gone a long way, but instead all I remember is a nameless and shapeless man hiding behind a clip board asking me question after question, like some kind of well rehearsed and automated monotone robot.

‘Why do you want to kill yourself… do you still feel suicidal….have you thought about how you may do it… what would stop you from doing it….if you left hospital now would you be safe… what would you like us to do?’

I can’t quite remember what I answered. In all honesty I can’t remember the Doctor’s name or much of anything that followed really. I just remember that room, with the wonky picture and the blood on the floor, and I remember the feeling that the Psych didn’t care about me. I remember no one smiled, no one offered me a cup of tea or told me I would be OK. I remember no one touched me; no hand on the shoulder, no subtle tactile gestures or even the meeting of a compassionate gaze. I can remember all of that but most of all I can remember the feeling of giving up as the last tiny and desperate ember of hope inside me fizzled out.

A smile could save your life

To this day I still don’t know if all this was related to any particular stigma around mental health. Maybe the staff were just tired, stressed out and overworked? Would it have been any different if my issue was a broken arm instead of feeling suicidal? I don’t know the answers to those questions but what I do know is that front line A&E staff need to understand something very important: When someone presents as suicidal they are in a highly charged emotional state that leaves them incredibly susceptible to what would normally be the most subtle of emotional gestures. As such, I believe this puts front line staff in a position of huge influence and power, something I think they are rarely aware of.

This may sound a little sensationalist but I hold it to be true based on my three previous experiences of presenting as suicidal at A&E. To a patient with an acute physical injury, it’s almost a given that A&E will be crowded, that you will have to wait for hours to be seen and that the receptionist will be grumpy and rude. However, to someone in an extremely heightened emotional state, the vantage point can be extremely different. The crowded waiting room can seem threatening, the long wait can seem torturous and the receptionist’s treatment of you as the first point of human contact can either serve to confirm and deny that you are the worst person in the world and that you deserve to die…just as much as a smile could potentially save your life.

Why, why, why?

It’s almost inconceivable to contemplate how suicide has now become the single biggest killer of men aged between 20–49 in the UK. I just can’t fathom it out at all. In terms of connectivity and knowledge, we are the most advanced generation that has ever existed on the earth. And yet, every year in this country, thousands upon thousands of men who are dads, husbands, sons and brothers, just like me, end their own lives.

I am incredibly blessed, or some might say lucky. My story is a story of hope and healing. I didn’t take my life that day and a new chapter eventually opened up to me, all of which was less to do with my visit to A&E, and more and more to do with the amazing friends and family around me.

I hate talking about these things and, despite all reason otherwise, I still feel ashamed and embarrassed. I have no idea how to turn back the black tide of darkness that claims so many young men’s lives every year. However, I am slowly coming to understand that appropriate vulnerability in the right setting (and with the right people) can create much needed healing and connection. I have also come to the realisation that if I don’t have the courage to speak out and tell my story, then how can I expect other men to do the same?

Things need to change and that change has to start with all of us, particularly front line A&E staff, taking a closer look at our attitudes towards the silent pandemic of male suicide. It needs to stop and we all have to play our part.

If you'd like to read more from Jamie about living with bipolar II disorder, he blogs regularly.

What did you think of Jamie's blog? Tell us in the comments.

Share your story

Too many people are made to feel ashamed. By sharing your story, you can help spread knowledge and perspective about mental illness that could change the way people think about it.

Comments

I completely agree all front

I completely agree all front line staff should have some basic mental health trainin.. a little compassion goes a long way. 3 hour wait whilst feeling suicidal is absolutely diabolical.

Thanks Karen

Hi Karen- thanks for the comment. It's good to try and get the message out in a constructive way so that we can all play our part in making changes to end the stigmas attached to mental health.

Excellent and so true!

This is such an honest reflection of the patient experience. We need to listen to patients and offer compassion, kindness and care to those affected by mental health.

Thank you...

Thank you Jamie for your heartfelt and honest article. It's so important to read about experiences like this and I agree wholeheartedly that something needs to change. I have never thought of going to A&E with a mental health condition - which somewhat proves that the stigma lives on in me (even though I myself have similar problems) - I think I would never have thought of going there because I always assumed they would just tell me to go to my GP or section me. Mainly - thank you. The current surge of stories gives me hope that someday things might improve. I've actually found that speaking openly about my problems takes the stress of hiding them off me and helps with the anxious feelings. I hope you continue to heal and be blessed with a great support network.

Thanks Kim

Hello Kim, Thank you so much for your comments and encouragement. It was lovely to hear from you and I am glad that you are getting the opportunity to open up more about your own story. It's very important to find safe and encouraging places to be open and vulnerable as this increases our sense of connection and decreases the elements of hidden shame that can grow if left alone to fester in the darkness. A&E isn't perfect but it can at least be somewhere to access support out of hours, so don't rule it out as an option if required. As for getting sectioned, I have tried on many occasions but with little success, ha ha! Jamie

Great blog and completely

Great blog and completely agree. I have been to A&E a few times when suicidal on the advice of community mental health team. Experiences have varied but at no point do I feel I have been treated with any care or respect (apart from once when I was able to wait in a cubicle). In fact generally, I am always made to feel that I am being silly and wasting time. When I have been alone I have been sent off with no thought for how will get home or if it's safe to let me leave the hospital in a suicidal state in the early hours of the morning. On the other hand when I have been there for physical issues I have had fantastic care!

Hey Jenna

I am so sorry to hear about your experiences Jenna. There really does seem to be a stigma when accessing A&E for emergency mental health support. I know staff are pressed for time etc but a little care and human compassion really would go a long way. Take care of yourself and I hope you have found some people or places where you can find genuine encouragement and support, that's very important. Jamie x

very well said

Dear Jamie, I'm so pleased you didn't manage to end your life that day. I have had very similar experiences in a&e, on one occasion I was told by a nurse who had seen me there once 6 months before 'there's no point in us treating you if you're just going to do it again', and another doctor laughed in my face. However on other occasions I have been treated with compassion and left feeling like a human whose life is worthwhile rather then a burden who shouldn't have bothered to try. Thank you for sharing your experience with such honesty and clarity. Keep fighting :-)

Thank you Abi

Hi Abi. Thank you so much for taking the time to read this and respond. It's horrible that you experienced something similar, if not worse, in how you were treated but I am so glad that you have also had positive experiences. I really hope front line A&E staff are reading these blogs and comments as this isn't just about 'having a go' or 'NHS bashing', it's about letting these people know the power that they have and how they can make huge differences in small ways to people's lives. It's not rocket science and it doesn't cost the earth. Thanks again Abi and take care of yourself too. Jamie x

Suicide

Thank you for blogging on this important subject. I've only been to A & E a few times, either to support someone else or for a problem I had. It struck me that when observing people arriving, especially those in obvious pain and distress, how cold the initial contact was. No empathy, consoling words or even a smile. It also hit me that when someone is in real need of emergency care, their life in danger, how quick the response is, with all kinds of staff available to save that persons life. Yet, when someone is on the verge of suicide, their life in danger, it's so very different. Same poor initial contact at a time of deep distress. No emergency care, but waiting hours to talk to a doctor. The body is viewed as far more important than the mind. How very tragic.

Really well said

Hi Pam. Thanks for the response and I really must say that your observations are very powerful. It must be so easy when you work in a place like A&E to normalise the surroundings and to go in to 'automatic' mode when dealing with all the chaos; more than likely a coping strategy for many staff to get through the day! However, as you said so well, seeing things from another's perspective and vantage point can be so useful. Often we think that we all see the world in the same way but we don't. That's why we need to hear and share each others experiences and stories, so that we can all learn, grow, move forwards positively and hopefully address and end some of the stigmas associated with mental health. Thanks again- Jaime

Suicide prevention

MH is epidemic in Britain. Parents, teachers and young people are given no information or awareness of the possibility. We teach our children early to swim to prevent death. But we don't tell them that teenagers are incredibly vulnerable to experience depression and psychosis. Even when we take them to hospital, parents are given no priority help. We waited 6 hours in the middle of the night before a psychiatrist arrived to confirm that our family member desperately needed attention. We had no help from the staff because they couldn't touch our family member until the psychiatrist agreed the diagnosis. Meanwhile our always placid teenager was becaming angrier and angrier and I had no one to help me to restrain him. I am a middle aged mother He was hitting out at me, kicking, finally ran away on to the nearby motorway. At which point we were lucky enough to have a mobike phone to be able to get through to call the emergency services quickly. Who on earth thinks 55 year old mums should be left to deal with a racing after a physically fit 18 year old in a psychosis?

More Education

Hi Karen. Thanks for sharing your experience. Our family had a very similar situation with my younger brother a number of years ago. It was a painful and incredibly concerning time for us all. As you say, we need more robust programmes of education and training for young people and parents alike. We also need far more supportive triage at A&E to deal with acute situations like you experienced. I hope your son has since received the support he required and that you have also found more help for yourself. Many blessings to you all and hopefully our stories can help to change things and address the stigmas that still surround mental health.

Brick wall

My brother suffered with mental health issues, he held a job with great responsibilities but struggled to cope with with the pressures of life. So in time he started to drink to help cope. Myself and my mum would try to get help and support but always hit brick walls. We were always turned away as their service wasn't the right one. Mental health services said he needed to address his alcohol issues first whilst alcohol services said he needed to be dry before they would help. So as a family we often had to rely on A&E. I can't remember the amount of times we went to them for help, but I can remember the amount of times we were helped and supported, none. I think it doesn't help in these situations when as a family we were emabarrassed to be there as we seemed "normal" and my brother was looked at like he was something off their shoe. He died in A&E in 2015, an experience I will never forget. I hope you continue to make a difference, even if helps just one person not have to go through what we had experienced. Maybe if we had got the right help my brother would still be with us now.

Incredibly sad

Dear Shelley, what an incredibly sad story. I can't imagine what that must have been like and how you all managed to re-adjust your lives after your brother's death. Your experiences of A&E and the mental health system sound horrendous! If only people of influence within the NHS could begin to listen to these stories and implement some simple changes, imagine the difference that could make! Your story must be incredibly painful to tell and share but, as you say, if it can help even one person then it will not totally have all been in vein. Thank you for sharing...I am sure your brother would be incredibly proud of you. Jamie x

Keep Fighting

Sadly those of us with a story like mine struggle to have any fight left in us to try make a difference. My brother just wanted to fall asleep and never wake up, he got his wish; we just have the rest of our lives to figure out why. Good luck in your plight. #timetochange

World wide

Thanks for sharing this info. I live in South Africa, and thought it was only here that we get that kind of treatment. My experience after being admitted to hospital after a suicide attempt, left me even more depressed. According to medical staff and even the pastor who visited me, I was being 'selfish' and attention seeking'. Needless to say, that when my teenage daughter tried to commit suicide earlier this year, I kept her at home and contacted our psychiatrist the very next morning. I no not all personnel are the same, but I was not prepared to take the risk of her being treated the same way I was treated years ago. So yes, stigma is a reality world wide. If we don't address it head on, it is never going to change. People need to be educated on all areas of mental illnesses and how to treat the patient with compassion and with respect. Thanks Jamie for your courage to step forward and addressing this very sensitive issue.

Many Blessings

Hello Annalie. Many thanks for your encouragement and may I firstly send blessings to your daughter for her recovery and care. May she know, unlike you did from your experience, that she is deeply valued and loved. It is very sad to hear that you have experienced similar stigmas in South Africa. Even more sad is that I have also experienced religious leaders who have condemned their patients and even criticised them for taking medication rather than turning to prayer for help. This blog has mostly focused on stigmas within A&E but stigmas within faith settings is a WHOLE other topic to be explored another day! As you say, compassion and respect is the way forwards, and that should be irrespective of someone's faith, belief, skin colour, gender or sexuality. Take care and I hope that your daughter in her time of need had a much more affirming and healing experience. Jamie

bipolar

Thank you for sharing this, i wanna make a diference too i fight against stigma all my life, more now that i learn finaly who i am and not what other people say about this ilness or me, without even knowing or making any effort. in the hospital near my house where ive been hospitalized many times, theres no humanity what so ever and the young new nurses are the worst, no respect whatsoever is a proper assilium...ill fight until the end today! i know what respect, humanity means and what it feels like. you are definetly not alone, theres many voices out there helping us. All the best!! my love to you <3

Vânia

Thank you for replying to my blog Vânia. It's very sad to hear how negative your experiences of hospitalisation have been. People should always be treated with dignity and respect, especially so when they are vulnerable due to mental health challenges. If only some people could understand a little more how painful it can be to feel treated so poorly. Care, support and respect will not solve all of the issues related to mental health but they are free to implement and can make a huge impact for the better in people's lives. Take care of yourself Vânia, and thank you for your kind words. Many blessings, Jamie x

So glad I have just read this..

Jamie, I have just stumbled upon this and I'm so glad I did, it has struck a chord with me and you've inspired me and given me hope, I have suffered for the last ten years feeling exactly as you have described, however I'm not as brave as you and I struggle to openly admit this to myself or my family, let alone a stranger in the medical profession! I totally and utterly agree that a small amount of understanding and compassion, even in a friendly smile when you're feeling at your lowest ebb can have an unbelievable effect. Things became worse for me nearly 4 years ago when my Dad who I was very close to committed suicide, we had no idea he was feeling this way, he too kept everything to himself. Thank you for helping me realise I'm not alone, Katy x

Huge thanks

Dear Katy- firstly, let me say a huge thank you for your response. I really appreciated your honesty, even though it was painful to hear how you have been suffering in silence. Secondly, I was so sad to hear about your dad. That could easily have been me and it's so hard to describe to those you love that it's not about them not being enough...but is more about the inability to handle and deal with the incredible pain inside. It really can totally warp all logic to the point that you genuinely believe you are helping those you love by no longer being around. It's a dark, painful and twisted logic. I am sure that is little comfort fro you to hear now but if anything I hope it can encourage you to reach out to others. As much as there are holes and flaws in the mental health system there are also wonderful people who can offer deep empathy and encouragement. I really REALLY hope you can find some people like that in your life as you deserve love, hope and healing as much as anyone else. Please do take care of yourself Katy and may you continue to stumble upon more helpful support and encouragement. I always used to say in my darkest moments, 'if what I am going through now can help somebody else in a similar position, then it would at least have been worth something...' And getting your message has validated that to me. Many regards and blessings- Jamie

Nicely said

I have had similar experiences with A&E. I once went in with a huge goose egg on my head and other injuries and I didn't receive any medical attention at all. Although they were self inflicted it made me feel like I didn't matter. It confirmed all the dark thoughts I was having. After waiting many hours to see the doctor she only gave me about 5 minutes of her time. Perhaps if mental illness was something we could tangibly see it would be treated differently. A small gesture in such a fragile state of mind can go a long way. Thank you for sharing your story.

Thanks Karla

Hi Karla and thanks so much for your message. It's very sad to keep hearing that people have had similar experiences in A&E. When you are in a fragile state of mind, as you said, it's the worst thing when people respond to you in a way that seems to confirm those dark and twisted thoughts about yourself. I also agree with you when you mentioned about people's reactions poss being different if meantal health issues were more tangibly visible. If people could see or experience just a small amount of that horrendous inner darkness and pain then I think they would react very differently. On a personal note, thanks for your small gesture of kindness in replying. You didn't have to do that but you took the time and reached out...and that makes me feel a little more hopeful and less alone. Keep trucking Karla and take good care of yourself- Jamie

Bipolar

"My name is Jennifer. I was officially diagnosed 20 or so years ago with Bipolar, although from a very young age I was very depressed and would self-harm. I am like a roller coaster up and down, I can go days, sometimes weeks feeling fine but I can drop down that slope with a click of my fingers. The worst part of my illness is feeling so depressed that I self-harm and have really dark thoughts. Then I can go the total opposite where I feel like I want to conquer the world. That doesn’t last long. I know that when I get manic like that, I am heading down that huge slope. I have been with my husband 28 years, married 16. He used to find it hard to deal with as I used to hit out at him, but as we have gotten older he finds it easier . My children are 25 and 22. I had my eldest at 17. I struggled being a young mum with a mental illness but I was lucky to have my husband. I find that my boys understand more now they are older and they too help. The main thing is to talk - don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed. I sometimes sit there crying but do not really know why. And I think it’s hard in the work environment to talk and explain how it feels but you must tell people as they do not understand. At home with family, again talk. My husband used to say 'what do you want me to do!' I would scream and say leave me alone, but being alone is the worst thing. So I took him along to see my psychiatrist who tried to explain it to him. But the best way was when I sat him down after and said if I start to snap, or I am quiet and you can see I’m not having a good day, just hold me and reassure me that you're there. Let me cry if I want to take time out. He is not far away. It’s when someone says 'what’s up with you?' and they haven’t got the answer because I don’t know what’s up half the time myself. But I think that directing your friends and family to information on mental health is good. Also if it is a family member that you are concerned about, talk to them see if you can be there when they see a doctor, so you have a better view to what happening. Mind is a brilliant organisation - not just for the patient but for their families too, because it is very hard for them to learn how to deal with it all and scary too. It’s a lonely place for both involved. I always feel a weight has been lifted when I have a long talk and share how I am feeling. But most of all for me it is not hiding the fact I have a mental illness and explain it to people to reassure them I

Thank you Jennifer

This post is so useful and struck such a chord with me. I often wonder if I'm just a burden to my husband - who could have someone much easier to live with than me. It's hard. Thank you for posting this. So much.

Bipolar

I have said often to my husband just leave , but I don't know what I would do with out his support . I wrote that article and placed it on landscape , I want people to know who suffer that they are not alone , and to people who do not understand it is so hard! every day is A struggle fearing when you wake up that you don't know if you are going to cope , pray that you will , its awful.

Thanks

Hi Jennifer. As Kim said, this is really useful to hear. I have been with my wife 19 years and married 12. I have no idea how I would have coped without the support of her and my family but I am still a bit rubbish at talking and reaching out. Everyone always says that I need to talk and share more with them but I wonder how many of them really want to know about the darkness I feel and the thoughts that go through my mind. That said, I guess you never know until you try. As you have said, things have certainly got easier over time and it's good to know that there are some good support agencies and charities out there. It's clear that the NHS struggle to meet the rising needs associated with mental health, so it's fantastic when others rise up to fill those gaps. Feeling understood and supported is absolutely key, so thanks again for taking the time to share some of your story. Many blessings and keep trucking! x

Ditto

Hi Kim. I very much feel the same. My wife and kids are AMAZING but I often think and feel like they deserve better. HOWEVER- they tell me otherwise, so despite what my illness can sometimes lead me to believe, I have to try too accept this love, even when I don't feel it. I have found that the alternative just leads to a negative spiral of self deprecation that helps no-one. I always find it weird how hard it can be for some of us to accept the fact that we are loved and accepted... x

Thank you

Hi Jamie, thanks from the bottom of my heart for this post. I am Nora from Italy and I have bipolar disorder type II. When I feel like I can't move forward I really need to know that I am not the only one to experience that. No one seems to fully understand what it is like to be suicidal. Hope you have a good day. Thank you

Hello Nora

Hi Nora, and thank you so much for leaving a message. A thousand blessings to you as you move forwards and I am so glad you feel a little less alone. Take care of yourself. Jamie x

A bit of help

I'm really glad I found this website where people can so openly talk about how they're feeling. I'm at rock bottom, off work, broken up with my boyfriend and just feeling like I don't want to be alive. I don't want this to consume me but I'd just ask if anyone has any advice out of what I'm getting at the moment, which is counselling and anti depressants. I became suicidal a few months back and I'm worried I won't be able to ever get out of this hole. Just looking for a bit of support from people that have come out of it.

Support

Hi Livi, we're sorry to hear that you're struggling and hope you feel better ASAP. If you are every feeling suicidal, The Samaritans are free to call on 116 123, and they're good people who can help. We have a number of support links here that might be useful to you: http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/what-are-mental-health-problems/help-support-services. Take careof yourself, Tim at Time to Change

Don't give up

Dear Livi, As Tim said, I am so sorry to hear that you are struggling. It's horrendous being at rock bottom but please, don't give up. A huge changing point for me was going private for a proper one-off in depth psychiatric assessment with a recommend Psychiatric Consultant, something I never managed to get on the NHS. I know everyone has to walk their own path but the outcome of this for me was life changing. For over 15 years I had been misdiagnosed and on the wrong medication. Getting the right diagnosis, support and medication has made a huge and unexpected improvement in my life and I am now back on the NHS for my prescriptions etc. I don't regret the years of counselling and anti-depressants but I do wish I had realised sooner that the issue was not me being a bad person who had to work 'harder' to get better...but that I had an illness that needed a different treatment. Take care of yourself...all things pass. Hold on in there.

Thank you for this post, it's

Thank you for this post, it's very relatable. I was in hospital once for what I call "not exactly a suicide attempt" (I hurt myself to show friends and family I really did need help). The doctors didn't even bother talking to me about why I was there, or if I was okay or feeling better. I was treated as a crisis and locked up for the night, with nobody to talk to, and no phone to call friends/family if I'd wanted to. The way we treat suicidal people needs to change for sure.

Thanks for response

Hi Rachel. Thanks for your response although I was so sorry to hear about your experiences. I really hope things have improved for you since this event and that you have begun to find the support you need from friends and family. Things definitely need to change and i hope stories like yours, even though painful to share, can help to get the message across. It's not like what you needed at that time would have cost the earth...poss just some human kindness and a brew! Take care of yourself.

It's so very important that we can all talk about MH issues.

I remember when no one would talk about MH. It is wonderful that we can talk about it so much more openly than in previous decades. I hate to think of how terrifying it must have been with no support or understanding. I know even now many people are ignorant about MH issues. Pupils and Teachers in schools should be taught about the symptoms. Early intervention and a knowledge of early onset symptoms could prevent some deaths. MH should be so much more discussed in public and in education, especially universities. Better to have some previous knowledge than to wait until the NH crisis is at its peak. If you know anyone in this case, take a walk with them up to your nearest A&E. It can take many hours to get a diagnosis but if you can bear to sit there long enough, and have the ability to keep your family member with you (lots of people try to run off in the middle of their psychosis) it's the quickest way to get an admission and a helpful diagnosis

A and E

My experience of A and E is being stuck in a side room by myself for 6 hours and then sent away by a mental health Nurse. I have had worse experiences, where I was accused of being psycotic behind my back and subjected to a horrifying ordeal at a mental health hospital, where they even took my mirtazapine away even. I have depression, but I have never ever in any way been psycotic. I've also been subjected to all sorts of other things but sent away after 6 hour wait is the usual.

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