Recently, a new mental health facility called The Sanctuary opened in Manchester, UK. The first of its kind, it offers people struggling with emotional or mental distress a chance to access emergency overnight support without having to endure the trials and tribulations of going to A+E.
All I can say is, about time. Up until its opening on 10th September this year, there were two distinct pathways available to people in the North West requiring immediate mental health intervention. If you had money, you followed a road paved with gold until you ended up at the luxury surroundings of somewhere like The Priory. Or if you were like me, a pauper reliant on the NHS, you headed to your nearest Accident and Emergency department and took your place on the cold metal chairs with the bleeding, screaming and inebriated.
I’ve done more than a few 6+ hour waits on those chairs, which are screwed to the floor to prevent them being used in a violent attack. During that time, my own distress which I thought had already hit rock bottom, escalated to several layers below it from the trauma of being sat in such an inappropriate environment . Then, when my name was finally called, the humiliation and degradation of trying to explain my complete inability to cope to a disinterested triage nurse nearly finished me off completely. From there I was moved to a private room, which sounds good but it isn’t. It’s completely bare, save for 3 plastic chairs and it’s painted in ‘hospital green’ a shade that is not found anywhere on the Dulux colour chart. There are large sections chipped off for that ‘shabby chic’ feel without the chic. Then anywhere between another 1 and 3 hours later, an on duty psychiatrist or member of the mental health crisis team appears to take down your life story.
At the very point where the visit to A+E has pushed you fully into wanting to end it all, you have to delve into the recesses of your childhood memories and significant mental health events leading up to you being in that green room of doom. Articulating your thoughts in the middle of a mental health crisis is not easy. You are required to think in a straight line when the inside of your head resembles a jumble sale. You have to explain why you have come to A+E in this state and what you would like them to do about it. You have to answer the unanswerable.
At this point you are also desperate for them to be nice and look at you with empathy and concern. Sometimes this happened and I have sobbed with relief at the human connection. But other times I have felt lower than I ever thought possible when I’ve bared my soul to these complete strangers and been left feeling as though I’d been interviewed by a market researcher on the street.
Of course, I understand that they have to follow safeguarding procedures and establish whether I am a risk to myself or others. I know that A+E mental health staff don’t have the time or resources to really offer much in the way of comfort or reassurance, but it adds an extra level of suffering to an already dreadful experience to feel you are on a hospital conveyor belt. If you are not about to do yourself or someone else terrible damage, you are pretty much dischargable within the next hour, with your mental state not that different from when you walked in. Don’t get me wrong, if you are suicidal and can’t see a way past that, A+E is the right place to go. But there is a huge ‘grey area’ of people struggling to manage long-term mental health conditions, who may end up there because there was simply nothing in place to stop their crisis escalating beforehand.
That’s why a place like The Sanctuary is a revelation. It is run by experienced staff and volunteers with personal experience of mental health issues. It provides a range of support including offering a space to talk, managing depression, anxiety and panic attacks and assistance with coping after a crisis has passed. The most crucial fact is that it’s open from 11pm to 9am, so it’s available when most other services are closed and when your problems feel a million times worse.
The second most crucial fact is that there is not an inch of chipped hospital green paint anywhere. On entering the reception area you are instantly soothed by the soft cream and teal colour scheme. There are leather couches, pictures of sunsets and best of all, miniature rocket lava lamps. As Tesco say, ‘every little helps’.
The Sanctuary is based at the Kath Locke Centre, 123 Moss Lane West, Moss Side, Manchester. You can self-refer by calling 0161-637-0808. Health care and other professionals may also refer clients to the service by calling this number. You can also find out more by visiting www.selfhelpservices.org.uk.
If only there were similar facilities available everywhere, but this is an excellent start.