My work as the CE Mind Lighthouse Manager
Historically, if you were overwhelmed by a Mental Health crisis you booked an appointment with your GP, turned up at your local Accident and Emergency Department or you rang 999. In recent years, Crisis Interventions teams were created but these are in secondary care and in scarce supply. Historically in Cumbria, you must have been their patient within the last three years to access these services.
Carlisle Eden won an NHS bid to deliver something quite different and new, a service to offer a calm, safe and comfortable place to visit when they are experiencing a mental health crisis, feeling unsafe, or finding it hard to cope. I became the first Lighthouse Manager.
Anyone could ring our number between midday until late evening. Those that wanted to meet someone in person, could come down that day. Walking into the building was not like A/E or a GP's surgery, it had a home feel, but just like if you visited your friend, you were expected to stay sometime, chat, engage and then go back to your own home.
We found out early on, it was really important to listen and not judge. Many felt at times of crisis, they are not listened to and were being negatively judged by their family, friends, and statutory agencies. Even more importantly, being at the Lighthouse meant you were treated with kindness and respect. You do not need a Mental Health qualification for offering this service just to be human and willing to listen.
Why come to The Lighthouse?
The top reason why people contacted us was because of relationship breakdowns. There were many types of relationship breakdown, I counted over 70 different breakdown scenarios in those initial few years. The second most important issue discussed was housing, and then money insecurity. I found this really important because we were responding to social causes of crisis mental health, not medical. Two questions came up time and again working in The Lighthouse.
- Can Mental Health professionals fix coercion and control, separation, or divorce?
- Can Mental Health professionals provide long term solutions to evictions, debt, or hardship?
The Lighthouse was quite different from the medical support on offer, we developed a range of services that could help provide information on mental health support, and provide other places to gain information and help for social issues.
On a day-to-day basis, however, our main issue was many people made contact with us because they were struggling with thoughts of suicide. Many people visited us because they had no one in their lives to share what was happening and hold back their intrusive thoughts.
Another thing that struck me at the time as a leader for the project was the time it took for people in the Mental Health crisis to share their stories. Often it was complex and never a straight line. Most people used a less personal text and email service to make the first contact, which then moved to a phone call, and then a visit. Even when a person visited us, it could take between one to ten visits to fully share their whole story.
The emergency services or GPs simply do not have the time. At The Lighthouse did, we could be that shining light in their darkness.
For many people with mental health struggles, life was a long term misery. So over time, we built up a group of people who repeatedly dialed 999 or the NHS Crisis service but now instead made regular contact with us.
We had quite a number of people who were in crisis and were working locally in small and large companies to work through their issues, and just listen to each other's experiences. The reasons for contacting us were varied, but what struck me most was the take up of an immediate offer of coming down to see us that day, because right now they needed help, they needed to be heard.
The Lighthouse was open from 6 pm to 11 pm every day, seven days a week, every week of the year. We had developed protocols between the Police and NHS Mental Health Services. So we could quickly help people make contact with the right services that night, and keep them safe.
I found most people who made contact were in essence lonely. COVID -19 has escalated the numbers of people who are lonely and feel isolated, there is no quick fix for loneliness and I fear this is the silent pandemic still to appear.
I have worked in many Mental Health roles in my time, and I feel honoured and privileged to have worked with The Lighthouse team. They were and still are unsung heroes. I look back at those times with affection and very proud of the service it has become.
You can read more information on, or access the services of The Lighthouse here.