Help people before they hit rock-bottom, woman says

Eastern Health officials say Mobile Crisis Response Team being evaluated

Bonnie Belec
Published on December 18, 2013
A screengrab from the YouTube video “I had a black dog, his name was depression.”
— Submitted photo

When Sarah Burton reached out to the Mental Health Crisis Line during a bout of depression, by the time she got off the phone she felt like no one was listening.
The 22-year-old professional has suffered from mental illness for the past eight years and said she often feels there’s nowhere to go for help because the system only responds to people in crisis.

“I found (the crisis line) very awkward and unhelpful,” said Burton.

“Any time I’ve called I was given the impression it was a call centre-type environment. I didn’t feel like anyone had any intentions of helping me. And, like, my visits to the Waterford (Hospital), there was never any followup or even suggestions as to how I should take on my mental illness,” she said.

After reading a Telegram article about 46-year-old Darren Fancey of the Better Days support group for people with depression, she wanted to speak out about her own experience.

“As a young adult, I’ve had a difficult time finding the proper help,” she told The Telegram recently.

“I’ve been admitted into the Waterford several times. Each time after my assessment, I was brought to a locked room, given a sleeping aid and left for the entire night, just to be released in the morning without a second assessment. I have never left feeling any better, and no one has ever done any followup with me.

“I would just like to see people suffering from mental illness receive the appropriate treatment before they really do go into crisis mode,” she said.

Isobel Keefe, with adult acute and specialized services, and Kim Baldwin, regional director of community and children’s services — both with Eastern Health’s mental health and addictions program — recently met with The Telegram to talk about some of the ways the health authority is trying to address concerns about access and programs.

Among the services discussed were the Mental Health Crisis Line and the Mobile Crisis Response Team, which are operated via the same phone number by the same staff during different shifts.

The phone line is operational 24/7, while the crisis team responds to calls within a 45-minute travel radius of the Waterford Hospital after 4 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays. The team consists of a social worker and a nurse, and the number is 737-4668, or toll-free, 888-737-4668.

Keefe said an assessment is done over the phone as to what the issue is, how the person is feeling and what the best approach is to help them immediately.

Sometimes issues can be resolved over the phone, but if the person is assessed as being a risk to themselves or somebody else, the crisis intervenors can contact the police and arrange to have the person brought to the nearest health-care facility.

“There’s quite a range of issues people may be experiencing that the crisis line staff can help them with,” said Baldwin.

“A lot of times staff focus would be on stabilizing the crisis, offering support and making suggestions for them to follow up,” she said.

Keefe says staff often follow up later the same evening or the next morning. However, Burton said nobody did in her case and she wasn’t offered a visit by the team.

“To me it always seemed like it was more for people in crisis, and not just to help me get through a rut,” she said.

But Keefe and Baldwin said the service is for anyone, usually older than 18, who needs mental health care.

The Mobile Crisis Response Team was set up as a pilot project in 2010 and made more than 400 visits between then and the end of 2012.

The service is now being evaluated.

“There are many different models out there for operating mobile crisis teams,” Keefe said.

“It will definitely be kept. It’s just a matter of, will we change the way we offer it? Can we extend it to cover a larger period of time? I think, ideally, we’d like to have a 24/7 service available seven evenings a week. So we’re looking at staffing models and how we can offer it in a different way, and how to do it most efficiently and effectively,” she said.

Four full-time and five part-time staff — nurses, social workers and a licensed practical nurse — operate the crisis line and make up the response team.  

Burton said it’s a good time to evaluate when care and treatment is offered, and how.

“I have seen some dark times, but it is when you feel this darkness taking over that you need to go get help, not when you hit rock-bottom — that’s when the Waterford Hospital will accept you. There needs to be something before that, something to catch you as you’re falling,” she said.


Answering the call

Number of calls received by the Mental Health Crisis Line for the fiscal years (April to March) 2009 to 2013:

Year                             Calls

2009/10                       9,238

2010/11                       10,502

2011/12                       9,534

2012/13                       10,034

Source: Eastern Health