After feeling failed by NHS mental health services, my friend, Frankie*, resorted to private diagnosis.
"This experience was draining and demoralising for both of us. Many times, I ended up shouting down the phone in tears just to be asked whether I had tried speaking to a GP. I was terrified that Frankie would succeed in taking his own life."
Within weeks of us being friends, I witnessed his debilitating symptoms which were yet to be identified by medical professionals. He shared with me that he has struggled with his mental health since childhood. After a difficult period in which Frankie's behaviour became self-destructive, he attempted suicide.
Looking for support through a GP
Sadly, this did not come as shock to me because Frankie had been desperately trying to access NHS support in the two years preceding his suicide attempt. Frankie recalled a ten minute appointment with his GP in which they barely looked up from their screen as he described his symptoms. Suggesting that Frankie was experiencing Anxiety and Depression despite these diagnoses failing to explain his symptoms adequately, the GP sent him on his way with antidepressants. This experience deterred Frankie from seeking support through his GP again.
After the suicide attempt, I took Frankie to the Accident and Emergency (A&E) department at a London hospital.
Upon seeing his self-harm wounds, a nurse tutted at him. Another nurse said "you're too good looking to be doing silly things like that". And so, we waited for six hours for Frankie to be misunderstood, devalidated, and sent home with nothing but leaflets for Mind and Samaritans. On behalf of Frankie, I was enraged at the nurses' ignorance and lack of professionalism, and their failure to offer support to someone who was visibly distressed and in urgent need of medical attention.
The weeks passed and I could see Frankie beginning to spiral again. I made calls to organisations in London and Kent, from the Crisis Team to the Community Mental Health Team, but not a single one had a waiting list of under six months or could provide any kind of psychiatric help. On one occasion, Frankie was a quarter of a mile outside of the catchment zone for a counselling service which, on this basis, refused him support.
This experience was draining and demoralising for both of us. Many times, I ended up shouting down the phone in tears only to be asked whether I had tried speaking to a GP. I was terrified that Frankie would succeed in taking his own life.
Private psychiatric assessment
One morning, upon realising that Frankie's desperate pleas for immediate help were falling on deaf ears in NHS services, we decided to explore the option of private treatment.
So I turned to Google to find the cheapest private psychiatrist in the local area and was shocked at the high prices. An issue we encountered was that Frankie had yet to be given an assessment and accurate diagnosis; it was difficult to know where to start.
At the cost of a whopping £350, we found a private psychiatrist in London and booked Frankie in for an assessment. After making the appointment, we were seen within four days. The hospital's staff were welcoming and professional from the moment we stepped in: a stark contrast to Frankie's NHS experiences. There was no long wait before the appointment and armed with a complementary hot drink and biscuits, Frankie was seen immediately.
After an hour, Frankie came back into the waiting room looking relieved. He had been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and Bipolar Disorder. He reported that the psychiatrist had been extremely welcoming and reassuring, giving him a full care plan and an extensive written report about his needs. The psychiatrist prescribed medication that they thought would help with Frankie's particular mental health needs rather than generic antidepressants, with a plan to treat help him with his ADHD and PTSD in the future.
We left feeling relieved, validated, and unburdened. For the first time in years, Frankie felt emotionally ready to confront the problems that have plagued him for years.
- See more: Jessica Murray's experience of living with Borderline Personality Disorder
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I do not regret spending that amount of money. I believe that if we had waited for the NHS to provide help, Frankie would not still be here today.
Six weeks after going to A&E, we received a letter from an NHS mental health pathway called ADAPT that would help Frankie with his self-harm and suicidal ideation. Frankie was allocated an appointment a further four weeks away but they were brilliant when we eventually did see them. We met with a fantastic psychiatrist who has since helped Frankie with medication, with plans for further care and therapy.
Everyone's experience of NHS mental health services is different, but the NHS really let us down on this occasion. Seeking private mental health support was an act of pure desperation but has changed Frankie's life for the better. If you are suffering with poor mental health, I strongly advise visiting your GP and requesting an assessment. An assessment will highlight your personal needs, enabling you to get the appropriate treatment that you deserve.
As of January 2019, the government is said to invest millions into the mental health sector. Let's hope that this makes NHS support more timely and accessible in every area.
Jessica Murray is a trainee counsellor who lives with Borderline Personality Disorder.
*A pseudonym has been used