I caught the end of this episode the other week on More4 and was so interested that I went onto 4OD to watch the whole thing and decided to do a blog post about it for you guys. I’m pretty sure that’s it’s still available to watch on 4OD, so feel free to go and check it out before/after reading this post.
This episode of the series focuses on ambulance crews dealing with mentally ill patients and how the NHS works in terms of mental health emergencies. It was incredibly, incredibly interesting to watch as it never occurred to me (no idea why) that ambulance crews might be called to deal with someone who is mentally ill.
The first case that they showed was a man on top of a multi-story car park who looked as though he was about to throw himself off. One of the paramedics talked about a similar situation that she’d been to several years before where they’d gotten to the scene too late and found the body of a teenage girl at the bottom of a tall building, her phone left on the ledge that she’d jumped from- the phone contained her suicide note. I can honestly say that just hearing her talk about the experience gave me chills; the whole scenario is just so sad and awful.
It was also pointed out that the ambulance crews had received no training in how to talk to suicidal people; they were forced to think on their feet to try and talk the man away from the edge whilst waiting for trained negotiators to arrive. Thankfully this case ended with the patient coming down from the ledge.
The programme highlighted the fact that mental health problems are growing- the paramedic crews now have to go to one mental health related incident every shift and they have no training or guidance on how to deal with it. They receive around 750,000 calls about mental illness per year; the most common calls that they get are relating to panic attacks, self harm and over doses.
One of the cases was of another depressed, suicidal man. Interviews with him and the paramedics highlighted how little suicide and depression are talked about, or even acknowledged. There’s no actual cure and nothing that the paramedics can do other than try and offer comfort and in some cases take them into hospital to try and access further help. It also showed that support from friends and family can help the patient more than anything, so many people are alone in the modern world, it only lets mental health issues get worse.
Another thing that the programme showed (and something that we’ll all probably know too well) is how awful the mental health system is and how many gaps there are, agencies don’t communicate properly and people can so easily slip through the cracks with tragic results.
One of the patients shown had schizophrenia and was clearly hallucinating and delusional, he didn’t receive sufficient care because he was deemed ‘not crazy enough’ even though anyone could see that he was clearly unwell and distressed, he also showed incredible strength in dealing with his illness. It was a little bit heartbreaking to watch.
Generally patients who have been brought in for things like self harm are in hospital for around ten hours, are assessed, deemed alright and then sent home if they don’t meet the criteria, the sad and frustrating part of this is that is can just turn into a recurring theme, patients going in and out of hospital as they self harm, recover and then self harm again. They don’t get better.
Something else that the show touched upon was the impact of a successful suicide on those around them, with one of the paramedics talking about a suicide in her family. People who suffer from a mental illness and don’t get adequate care don’t just slip away or get better with time… they suffer and become desperate, some of them eventually finding the pain too much and ending their own lives.
The last incident on the programme was the ambulance team responding to a ‘person under a train’ or a suicide attempt on the London Underground, for obvious reasons this is something that struck pretty much every chord imaginable with me. It was chilling and devastating to watch and I couldn’t look away.
Overall this was a really, really interesting documentary that brought up some things that I hadn’t thought about at all and showed the problems facing both the mentally ill and the NHS in a genuine and sympathetic light.
Hope this was useful/interesting, I’ll be back on Wednesday with something light-hearted. Feel free to drop me a note below!
‘til next time,