How Newham’s mental health crisis line helps residents through their darkest moments
PUBLISHED: 07:00 27 August 2019 | UPDATED: 16:18 12 December 2019
Newham’s mental health crisis line helps 200 residents get through their darkest moments every month. The Recorder went behind the scenes at the NHS facility to see how this vital work is done.
The line is staffed by two mental health professionals - one doctor and one nurse - 24 hours a day, the line helps people who don't have anywhere else to turn to.
"For many years in Newham, if you've been in mental health crisis, go to A&E," said Diane Ball, the line's operational lead. "We're trying to stop that happening. It's the wrong place to be."
"It's a chaotic environment. You don't want to add to your distress by sitting there."
A 30-year mental health service veteran, Ms Ball set up the first version of the service in 2017 in the East London Foundation Trust's home treatment team (HTT).
The HTT usually sees people in their homes, but goes wherever they're needed, including cafes and places of work.
Originally a phone-only service, since December last year the professionals manning the line have been able to go out and see patients between 8am and 8pm.
But most are treated fully over the phone, with only 18 per cent needing to see a clinician in person.
"I want everyone experiencing a mental health crisis to be able to get the help that they want, that they need and get it without having to jump through hoops," Ms Ball said.
When The Recorder visited, senior nurse practitioner Kwame Ayenu was on duty.
His shift started at 8am, By 11, he'd taken two calls.
He spoke to one person and arranged for them to talk to a doctor from the team, who was assessing the patient as The Recorder spoke to Mr Ayenu.
That man was later started on medication and referred to HTT's assessment and brief treatment team to get a more detailed picture of his problem.
Another call had just come in from accident and emergency at Newham Hospital, around the corner from the crisis line.
Mr Ayenu was heading out to help the suicidal patient.
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That person was later referred to talking therapies to help deal with her illness.
Seeing the same person that you talked to on the phone is important to the service. It's both to give patients consistency and to pare down the bureaucracy needed to treat them.
When a doctor or nurse takes these calls, it's often about helping people to help themselves.
Katie Barett-Pearre is the clinical nurse lead at the HTT. She helped a suicidal man the day before The Recorder spoke to her. He is called "Tony" here.
Tony was working less and less as a school caretaker and lost contact with his children, leaving little of what had given him his identity, according to Ms Barett-Pearre. His heavy drinking was the main problem.
"We established that he was actually in quite a powerful position, because he'd realised that alcohol was a problem and he'd identified that and called for help," she said.
The conversation over the phone is to help them get a handle on their problems with some added perspective and facts.
But people with substance abuse problems like Tony are complicated.
"There's a dual role with a call like that.
"You can't go in and say, 'stop drinking', because that's really dangerous [because of possible withdrawal] and it's not realistic."
By the end, Tony wasn't suicidal (Ms Barett-Pearre thinks her northern accent helps).
"That's how powerful it can be, just to have a phone call," she added.
"There's something about each person that helps them to cope. It's about trying to figure that out."
The service is planning to go further now by offering around-the-clock callouts and taking walk-ins at a new crisis centre in Plaistow.
The new-and-improved line is slated for launch in October this year.
If you think you're experiencing a mental health crisis, the Newham crisis line can be reached on 020 7771 5888.
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