Mental Health ‘Care’ in St Helens

I’m going to stray from this blog’s remit to post something personal – something that I think needs saying. I also want to apologise in advance because I’m writing it from the heart.

2020 hasn’t been a great year for anyone, I think we can agree. However 2020 has been especially bad on my family. I am my father’s full time carer and this year, a new illness has joined his other conditions; dementia. Living with someone with dementia is very hard and, as someone who suffers with his mental health, I have often felt very frustrated and very low with this new development.

Last week I could take no more. I decided I needed help. I rang the doctor on Wednesday 16th of this month and got myself booked in for a phone consultation. The doctor rang later that day and I explained that I felt I needed some sort of therapy. I’ve had counselling before I explained – I even trained to be a counsellor – so I know that this works for me. He instructed me to ring St Helens Mind, as they provide mental health care in St Helens. No referral seemed to be required.

I rang St Helens Mind and got through to an answer machine which told me that messages are not listened to daily but that if something was needed urgently, I could email them. I didn’t think my referral request for therapy or counselling was urgent so I just left a message with a brief explanation of what I was dealing with and my contact details. However, the following day (Thurs 17th) I felt I needed to just send an email just in case. I took to the St Helens Mind website and fired an email off, which immediately came back as undeliverable. Turns out sthelensmind.com is not the right address. A further look around the site revealed that .org.uk might be a safer bet and so I repeated my email.

Later that day, I had a look in my spam folder. Sure enough there was an email from St Helens Mind. An ‘out of office reply’ The email told me that enquiries cannot be dealt with until Monday 21st December as the office is closed due to annual leave. Let that sink in for a moment. No one was working at all for a whole week it seems. More, no one was working there in the penultimate week before Christmas – a time notoriously difficult for mental health sufferers. I get that Covid has seriously depleted staffing levels and the working practices we might normally take for granted, but is it really right that an entire organisation can lose a whole week at a fraught time of year because of annual leave? Do they not have any other volunteers who could man the switchboard? I actually tried to volunteer for the organisation myself a decade ago. I figured as a counselling student I’d be welcomed into St Helens Mind. I attended their programmes and passed the CRB but never heard anything back about starting. I rang several times and was routinely fobbed off so no, I wouldn’t be surprised if they don’t have enough volunteers to actually cover annual leave.

Today is 24th December. It’s Christmas Eve. St Helens Mind have, I presume, been back working all this week now, yet my request for help has gone unanswered. I ask you, is it any wonder that St Helens is the country’s suicide capital (17.9 deaths per every 100,000 people) if this is an example of the help on offer for people with mental health problems?

If you’re reading this and you feel similarly troubled and abandoned please know that there is help out there. call the Samaritans or text SHOUT to 85258. It’s completely free and a trained crisis volunteer will call you back.

Take care. Merry Christmas.

***UPDATE***

After writing this blog and sharing it to Instagram, I had a message on IG from St Helens Mind’s CEO, Gill Ellison. Funny it took them five minutes to respond to a complaining post on social media, yet it’s taken them a week and counting to reply to my email asking for help?

Her response was totally unapologetic, hostile and defensive right from the off. Rolled out a plethora of excuses about moving office, being short staffed, the NHS…

Told me that all email communications have a signature advising people that there are communication issues regarding the telephone number. I screenshot the out of office email I received disproving that such a signature was there. Her reply? “Well it did have” No apology whatsoever, When an apology did come, t was of the “I’, sorry *you* feel that way” variety. Straight out of the Priti Patel school of Apologies. It is not my fault, nor is it the fault of any service user, that St Helens Mind cannot get their act together to deal with service requests. What is all the more tragic is that this was the only time in the conversation that I felt that Ms Ellison took my feelings – the feelings of someone mentally struggling – into consideration.

All I got from this communication was a much repeated defensive air of ‘we pride ourselves on our service’ and the assurance that complaints were rare. As an exercise it was all about covering her arse. If anything it has made me think even less of St Helens Mind, mot what I imagine she intended.

Published by: Mark Cunliffe

Mark Cunliffe is a film reviewer at The Geek Show and We Are Cult and an inlay booklet essayist of several Arrow Films DVD/Blu-ray titles including The Day of the Jackal and Children of Men. He has appeared on podcasts such as Pop Screen and Talking Pictures TV and has written a chapter for Scarred For Life: Vol II, a book about 1980s TV, film and pop culture, which is available to buy now from lulu.com. He is a proud socialist and northerner with a keen interest in working class history.

Tags4 Comments

4 thoughts on “Mental Health ‘Care’ in St Helens”

    1. Thanks Bernadette. I’ve just updated this post because someone at St Helens Mind actually got back to me off the back of me linking this piece via my instagram account. Unfortunately, it was of no help as you’ll see.

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  1. Oh Mark I really feel for you. As someone who had to look after her mum for a year who was also living with dementia, I really understand. I waited an awful long time to get any help with that situation but it seems you just have to persevere.

    As for experience with the charity, that is shocking. Try elsewhere and again persevere. This is a really difficult time of year for people who are struggling anyway but in 2020, with everything else, the whole thing is more difficult still. I wrote about my experiences in my blog in 2018 and although I often took down or edited what I had written, much of it is still there.

    Hang on in there and be dogged about getting help – I promise you things will get better. Thinking of you.

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  2. Hi Mark, I hope you’ve managed to get through the Christmas weekend alright. I would suggest phoning the Crisis team at the Royal Hospital in Liverpool 0151 7063520, 24 hours liaison team, http://www.merseycare.nhs.uk/our-services/a-z-of-services/hospital-mental-health-liaison-teams/; http://www.nhs.uk/service-search/mental-health/find-an-urgent-mental-health-helpline ; check out the Brain Charity – free on 0800 008 6417 (Monday-Friday: 9am-4.30pm) https://www.thebraincharity.org.uk/how-we-can-help terrible name I know! Maybe even Talk Liverpool on 0151 2282300 http://www.talkliverpool.nhs.uk/urgent-help/ to get a number for your local area that can help. I realize you’re in St. Helens but try to explain the situation emphasising that help is unavailable in your area & you don’t know who/what to turn to. Hopefully someone will give you some kind of assistance. Likewise, we have the Liverpool Carers Centre 0151 7052307 http://www.localsolutions.org.uk/ who can give you advice & provide respite etc. You’ll get a Carers Assessment! In theory your doctor should provide you with the information/contacts or inform social services on your behalf but in my experience GPs are incompetent & don’t understand mental health or the difficulties of living with someone who is disabled or has dementia. If you can, write the questions down first or hand them a list of things you want answered. I understand & empathise with your situation as mine is very similar, unfortunately I can’t really help any more than this and I’m surprised I managed to get this info together. I really hope it helps and you get something sorted. Please feel free to email me. Best wishes Vicky

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