Accessing Mental Health Support

My name is Ashvin Gukhool and I am a 41 year old gentleman (or should I label myself as a 41 year old mental health sufferer as that’s how the system treats me!).

This is the first part of a true account of my struggles and experiences living in squalor in the London Borough of Haringey and my never-ending fight for survival with my complex mental health conditions.

I have been struggling with mental health issues for years. I have always tried to hide this as very often when I’ve asked for help, I have been made to feel like there is nothing wrong with me.  Some of the questions that have been put to me really trigger my well-being, such as:

“What’s stopping you from committing suicide”

“Have you made any plans to end your life”

“On a scale of 1-10 rate, how likely will you harm yourself… blah blah blah!” 

This has had a significant impact on my day-to-day activities.  So much so, that I feel too ashamed and terrified to ask for help. I have been made to feel worthless. This is the ‘stigma’ you have to live with when suffering from mental health conditions.

A good Samaritan

Eventually, after much persuasion from one good samaritan (Linda from the Samaritans helpline) I sought help from my GP Surgery in November 2019.  The Physician Associate I saw was really supportive and referred me to the relevant support teams after I explained I had been unable to cope with numerous issues – depression, anxiety, suicidal ideations, insomnia, excessive credit card debts, housing issues, relationship breakdown and bereavements… amongst other things.

I was referred to the Community Mental Health Team in Haringey and after one telephone assessment I was deemed not to be needing mental support and advised to self-refer in a crisis.

This was followed by a face to face consultation with a Social-Prescriber, which was very promising – “we will do this for you, we will do that for you……..etc!” Yet hardly anything happened.

Being the loudest person in the room

In February 2020 I was referred to Connected Communities and had an assessment with a Housing Needs Officer, but again there was no follow-up.  I had to constantly chase for support and as I mentioned this has always been tormenting for me.

In July 2020, after “making some noise/complaints” a Social Prescriber referred me to Engage Haringey.  Yet again I had to relive the traumatic experience of explaining myself. Surprisingly, this time I was contacted by numerous professionals (Multidisciplinary Team) and I was given some hope that things would be resolved. Unfortunately, no time frame was given and leaving me to wonder if these hopes were just used to put a stop to the noise I had been making and action would only occur if my situation worsened… or maybe it just takes years!

I was then identified as ‘high risk and vulnerable’ by IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies), only to find out later that I didn’t fit their criteria due to my complex mental health condition.  I was told, “I have to engage with the support team as they do not want to be held responsible in case I self-harm whilst under their care.” Even the Social Worker during his telephone assessment stated that I did not have a mental health condition. Unfortunately, he also forgot to mute his phone and I heard him moaning to his Manager that he was having to stay longer than his shift “just to deal with this case” – me.  Just imagine how this made me feel. When professionals treat you like ‘just a case or an item’ within a failing system. A system that prioritises ticking a box to cover themselves, over the lives of people.  Where is the compassion and care to treat people with respect and dignity? How do you provide a person-centred approach to support people with individual needs instead of focussing only on the problems?

Playing hard to get

Next, I was allocated to another Support Worker from Engage Haringey and the Care-Plan stated that I would be receiving a support call at least once a week (I got the feeling this was just to dismiss my mental struggles).  Needless to say, this didn’t happen. In fact, I was the one chasing them for support. The support I did receive only happened once in a blue-moon and were mostly focused on completing the ‘well-being checklist’ or checking if anyone had contacted me from St Ann’s Hospital. Other phone calls I received from the Community Mental Health Team were from different individuals who would again just carry an assessment of how I was feeling, how likely I was to self-harm and if I was experiencing suicidal thoughts. But still no assessment from a mental health practitioner.

Months went by and in October 2020, still living with trauma from my poor mental health, I was made bankrupt! In December 2020 I had to take matters into my own hands and beg for help, which included contacting my local MP for assistance.  She advocated on my behalf and wrote to Haringey Council and Home for Haringey.  Finally, one of the Managers from the Community Mental Health Team contacted me and I was then referred to various professionals and again to Connected Communities.

The progress made me feel like I had won the lottery!

Who to believe

Following this Engage Haringey closed my case as it was being ‘handled’ by the Community Mental Health Team.  I was left questioning whether I ever received any support from Engage Haringey, besides being deemed ‘overwhelmed, depressed and time-wasting. I am currently trying to gather evidence to challenge Engage Haringey for the inaccurate records they hold about me, which state that I refused to engage with the mental health support team – when it was quite the opposite and I was the one chasing them. Yet another fight to contend with! I wonder how many other individuals have had to go through this or something similar?

After over a year of battles, I finally had my psychiatric and phycological assessments in January 2021 and have been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and being treated as an outpatient from St Ann’s Hospital.  I am currently on antidepressant and antipsychotic medications to treat my complex mental health conditions – BPD, Emotional Dysregulation, Insomnia, Depression, Anxiety, Suicidal Ideations……and so on.  I have also been referred to other specialists for several health issues (hearing impairment, IBS, incontinence, arthritis…etc).  I had an interesting conversation with Connected Communities where I was told to choose which issues I wanted to prioritise/resolve as they cannot deal with them all! Really? I have been struggling for so long and I am being asked to ‘pick and choose’?

And the battle goes on…