Crippen hears from a mental health system survivor about 'safe and well' checks / 9 April 2010
It's not unexpected that people who experience severe mental distress generally find night times the worst time to be alone. This is compounded by mental health trusts not being required to have any more than a tick box quota of staff available at night. In fact, most don't bother providing any real service during this time other than fielding a token Crisis Team often consisting of only two people.
I talked to a survivor who attended a recent workshop regarding mental health Crisis Teams. She was told that team workers see themselves as delivering a home treatment service - the teams are in fact called 'Crisis and Home Treatment Teams'. This involves delivering drugs to people at home in order to keep patients out of hospital and to allegedly save money in terms of expensive admissions.
Whilst they are out on these so-called 'drug runs' there is usually no-one else available at their base to answer phone calls and respond to requests for assistance. So one would assume that the trusts, needing someone to cover this out-of-hours service, would turn to an experienced private agency or mental health charity in order to check that any phone call, for example, is met with an appropriate response. WRONG!
In fact mental health trusts often ask the police to carry out a 'Safe and Well' check on any patient that they are unable to visit themselves. Unfortunately the police have little or no training in mental health issues, and seem to regard this duty as a bit of a nuisance, to put it mildly. In the experience of our survivor a lot of police officers are extremely prejudiced and will often view anyone presenting with mental distress as a potential axe wielding killer. Forget the loveable village copper image. The description of one such response team fitted more the heavy booted descendants of the notorious Special Patrol Group (SPG).
Therefore, if the police go to a house and can't get a response, often because the person is too scared to open the door, they have been known to break it down. Even if they don't have to break their way into a home, they often forcibly drag people out, usually handcuffed (more them once this has happened to our survivor when she's only been wearing a night dress - no slippers even!), before being taken to a police station to be locked overnight in a cell; this is their definition of a Place of Safety! As you can imagine, for people who are already in an extremely distressed and often confused state it is a terrifying experience to also be treated like a criminal in this way.
It was estimated that in 2006 around 250 people killed themselves within 48 hours of being detained in this way. Are we surprised?!
Keywords: disability professionals,discrimination,medication,mental health,psychosis,survivor movement,young disabled people,