Mental health services cause more distress than they solve

My journey seeking psychological support since my own life-threatening illness and the resulting death of my son earlier this year can best be described as a farce.

Today’s psychiatrist appointment was extraordinary, even by the standards that have previously been set, with the doctor bringing religion into the conversation, and refusing to write a repeat prescription for antidepressants for fear of getting in to trouble for spending the budget. Yes, seriously.

For the benefit of anyone who hasn’t been following my story, in February this year I was diagnosed with the rare, life-threatening pregnancy complications pre-eclampsia and HELLP syndrome when I was just 24 weeks’ pregnant. My son Hugo had to be delivered to save both our lives. Hugo fought incredibly hard for 35 days – he was just too small, and premature. I am heartbroken at the loss of my much-wanted, much-loved baby.

In June, I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression. I have been referred for psychotherapy, and have received six sessions of formal counselling from a specialist pregnancy loss charity, Petals (that I had to source myself). My experiences with mental health services have been previously outlined in this post, and this post.

Mental health services in Bedford, where I live are provided by an organisation called SEPT, who describe themselves as “one of the most successful Foundation Trusts in the country providing integrated care including mental health, learning disability, social care and community services.” Local psychiatric services are provided in a wing of Bedford Hospital.

Today I had an appointment at noon. This was the third different psychiatrist I have seen since June. She introduced herself with her back to me while walking down the corridor on the way to her consultation room, so it was lucky I have her name written on my appointment card as I didn’t catch it.

On arriving in the room, I was invited to sit. While looking at the notes, not at me, she asked me how I was and I explained I was feeling a little low and teary thanks to a virus, on top of everything else. She then asked me how I was getting on with my medication – the dosage had been doubled at my last appointment, and I was struggling with the side-effects. I was told they would calm down after a while – fair enough.

What I really need, however is psychotherapy to help me deal with the underlying trauma. I was originally informed back in June the referral would take up to six months because it is oversubscribed, but this doctor told me it would take up to a year. Naturally, I expressed my frustration – the doctor said I would be better off going private. The same doctors provide private and NHS services, meaning it is likely in their interests to keep the NHS waiting list long. While I said working in the NHS I recognised how silly the system can be, I wasn’t really interested in a political debate.

What I really want is help to get better. She suggested I call the the Samaritans. I didn’t realise they offer counselling support for all sorts of reasons, not just those who are suicidal – but why should patients constantly have to seek their own support, and from so many sources? We deserve consistency of care.

Then I started to feel teary and said how much I miss Hugo. The doctor turned to me and said “God will give you another baby”, and said what happened to me is common. I could tell from her countenance that she meant to be kind, but bringing God into it was wholly inappropriate. If God is so generous with babies, why did my last pregnancy nearly kill me, and my baby die as a result?

Furthermore, what happened to me is not common – HELLP syndrome is, thankfully, very rare, as I told her. She looked at me quizzically and asked what it was, so I told her. She replied asking if that’s what affected Hugo, so I told her that technically yes, but the syndrome affected me meaning Hugo had to be born prematurely, which caused his death. To be fair, she is a psychiatrist and not an obstetrician, meaning not knowing about a very rare pregnancy condition is forgivable – but to so obviously not have not read my notes beforehand is unacceptable. That insensitivity could have been avoided with a quick Google search to learn more about HELLP syndrome.

Then followed a conversation about what could be done to prevent it happening again in another pregnancy – there is nothing that can prevent it – and I was told to ‘keep positive’. Again, this was meant kindly, but how on earth can I ‘keep positive’ about another pregnancy when I have not received adequate support to help me overcome the trauma of the last one?

She retorted by saying that psychiatrists are ‘overwhelmed’ by patients from all specialities, and each specialty should have their own counsellors like, for example, Macmillan do for cancer patients. I agree, but her opinion on that does precisely nothing to help me.

To conclude the appointment, the doctor confirmed that she would try to expedite the psychotherapy appointment, which I thanked her for.

We agreed I would persevere with the medication. I’ve run out of medication of that dosage, so I asked for another prescription – the psychiatrists on my other appointments have done so with no problem. The doctor said my GP had been made aware, so I could get another prescription from them. Yes I could, but as I explained, that would mean making an appointment with them, making another trip, etc etc, – and I was there then. She reluctantly got her prescription pad out of her bag but then hesitated and told me that she would get in trouble for writing the prescription because it would come out of her department’s budget.

I was flabbergasted, and asked her why exactly she felt the need to tell me about her department’s budgetary concerns, which is 100% irrelevant to a patient. In response, she raised her voice and kept  repeating about not wanting to get in trouble , and that I should go to my GP.

It was not like I was asking for something I do not need, or some revolutionary new treatment costing thousands of pounds that would have caused her strife with her manager. Telling me she was unable to give me a prescription on those grounds was spineless and lazy. To raise her voice as well was unacceptable.

At that, being frustrated at the whole appointment being a waste of time I said “For fuck’s sake”, picked up my coat and left, slamming the door as hard as I could behind me. To the best of my knowledge, no attempt was made to follow me to check I was ok.

I was not ok. I was in floods of tears and hyperventilating.

I make no apology for my language. Angry outbursts are a key symptom of PTSD – surely a senior mental health care professional would do everything they could to prevent one by being kind, compassionate and understanding – not arguing with a patient.

I am utterly furious and distraught at the way I was spoken to at the appointment today.

In addition, outside that busy hospital, people paused to gawp at the crazy sobbing woman but not one stopped to check I was ok. Shame on you, shame on you all.

The biggest shame, however, is on the consistent failure to prioritise mental health services. I know the NHS is bursting at the seams, but things have to change – the current situation is intolerable.

While the mental health system in general is in disarray, this issue is specifically with the services provided by SEPT. This post will form the basis of a formal complaint that I am also sending to them today.

36 thoughts on “Mental health services cause more distress than they solve

  1. Stephanie says:

    What a dreadful experience you have had. It is an absolute disgrace and I am so sorry it happened to you. You deserve so much more. I too had a traumatic pregnancy when I because seriously ill with colitis. My son was born at 32 weeks weighing 2lbs 10ozs. We were lucky to have both survived though we are not without scars (my son has deafness and Asperger’s syndrome and I no longer have a large intestine any more) I have needed help through the years to recover from and come to terms with what happened and I have always had to pay for it. It really is disgraceful. Mental health services need to improve.
    We could not have more children. I really pray that you do and that you can move forward to a better place while never forgetting your lovely Hugo. Take care xxx


  2. Rachael says:

    How utterly awful and upsetting
    I don’t know what else to say except that you deserve so very much more
    Mental health provision in this country is poor to say the least and so needed.
    Despite having attempted suicide my brother was deemed not severe enough to see anything above the grade of a councillor – thank goodness my parents could access funds for private treatment
    I hope you get more support from the nhs moving forward & that you get a sibling for your angel Hugo when you are ready ( I hope it’s ok to say that) x


  3. Susan Holdaway says:

    You are not the only one who has had issues with that particular department in Bedford hospital I know a couple of people who have found them fairly useless along with the record keeping. Even if they are overstretched etc it doesn’t excuse the fact the way they treated you.


  4. Christine Davidson says:

    Oh bloody hell, Leigh! That is not right! I have worked in mental health services for 20 years & am appalled at what this doctor said to you. It’s unprofessional and unnecessary. And 3 psychiatrists since June…that stinks. It’s not an excuse, but she doesn’t sound particularly senior or experienced and I’m so very sorry you had to experience this. Having the politics of the Trust aired in a clinical appointment isn’t helpful. As a patient, you just want to be treated, not lectured or listen to the systems problems. There are long lists for psychotherapy everywhere, unfortunately. But you shouldn’t have to ‘go private’, we have the NHS. I do hope she does what she said about trying to bring your appointment forward. You have every right to be utterly furious at your treatment. That’s less to do with PTSD & more to do with lack of respect & non existent person centred care. I wish there was something practical I could do for you. In lieu of that have a huge virtual hug & some Spanner love xx


  5. Lyssie says:

    I’m so sorry that you had to go through this today, as a former mental health nurse I’m all too familiar with the unhelpful constraints placed on services which only seems to make already distressed people in need of help worse. There’s no excuse for the way you were treated today. I hope your complaint results in things changing and that you’re able to get help from someone more professional than this woman today.


    • Leigh Kendall says:

      Thank you. My complaint has resulted in the help I need being not far away, but it never should have come to this. I’ll make sure no one else in my position has to go through similar additional trauma just to get the help they so badly need xxx


  6. Louise says:

    Oh Leigh, I am so, so, sorry that you were treated in this way – how awful for you. The way you were treated was unprofessional and inexcusable and I hope you receive a very swift apology. Sending you huge hugs and hoping that you get the support you need very soon xxx


  7. babylossmama says:

    Oh how, how horrible. I had my own bad experience with a therapist (who basically said, “since you can work, eat, and sleep, there’s no reason for you to be seeing me,” like I was crazy for wanting to talk to a therapist after my son’s death!), but at least the system is a bit different here in the US. I’m so sorry you had to deal with this terrible, unprofessional person and sending you lots of hugs.


  8. Hannah Budding Smiles says:

    Leigh I wish I could give you the world’s biggest hug. I’m distraught for you and so, so angry. After everything you have been through and continue to go through, I am disgusted that as you say, she didn’t read your notes prior to the appointment in order to be able to support you armed with the correct knowledge. I’ve had counselling before on the NHS, but it was useless and I had to seek help through a scheme my work was part of, so in a very very small way I can understand the utter frustration and idiocy of having to seek out help yourself.
    Loads of love and hugs sweetie, I hope you find some amazing support very soon xxx


  9. Sam Candour says:

    I am so sorry that you were treated so poorly on top of everything else you’re dealing with. There is absolutely no excuse for it; I hope your complaint prompts swift action and an even swifter (and genuine) apology.


  10. deskmonkeymummy says:

    What the f? This is truely horrific. I’ve not been through the system for a long time, preferring to manage my own stuff with a mixture of avoidance and agoraphobia and eating disorders, but bloody hell this is disgusting.
    How is this helping at all? And that you have had to repeatedly source your own counselling? For goodness sake. Wow. I’m completely outraged on your behalf.
    Hugs for you, lovely and I hope you get the care you deserve xx


  11. Kerrie McGiveron says:

    This is awful. I am sorry that you had to experience this on top of everything else. You went to them for help, and they added to your load by off-loading their troubles on to you. I hope that you will get to speak to someone who is empathetic who can really help you. Basic human decency should have really prevailed in that appointment – even if she couldn’t help you – what she said was inappropriate, I feel. Big hugs to you lovely, I hope you are feeling better from your virus soon, and that you are given the professional help that you are seeking – with compassion and patience xxx


    • Leigh Kendall says:

      Thank you – I’ve now spoken to people who can help me, but I think it’s mainly as a result of my blog. I worry for those who are unable to stand up for themselves for whatever reason. Thanks for your kindness xxx


  12. bettyallonby says:

    Hi Leigh,

    I’m sorry you had to go through this.

    I can’t speak from any experience of having visited a psychiatrist or having lost a child but when you say that angry outbursts are a symptom of PTSD, I think you are making unnecessary excuse; in my view angry outbursts are a result of having to deal with arseholes. You don’t need to try to justify your reaction; the whole appointment from start to finish sounds like an absolute joke!


    Liked by 1 person

  13. taragreaves2014 says:

    Oh Leigh, what a horrible – not to mention completely unnecessary – experience. I’m a staunch defender of the principle of the NHS but believe it is utterly broken with those working within it forgetting patients are people because they are overworked and too focussed on budgets and waiting lists. As if you haven’t been through enough.


  14. AutismMumma says:

    Horrendous, I’m so sorry and furious on your behalf.
    I hope you receive answers as a result of the complaint but of course it doesn’t help how you’re currently feeling. Shame on them and those passers by.


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