Diary of a new 111 mental health agent.

Posted: April 28, 2020
Category: COVID-19, Mental Health, Therapy

Diary of a new 111 mental health agent.
By Anonymous Inquire Talk Therapist

Due to the nature of this work I have decided that the BACP code of ethics around confidentiality applies to this blog. No names or locations will be disclosed.

I will give a brief background history to my previous career, I have worked in mental health for approximately 20 years within the inpatient acute setting, I have witnessed despair and levels of hopelessness that have made me question why I work in that environment. With these questions as a constant thought I decided in 2008 to start my academic training for integral counselling. To be honest I always thought that I would not utilize these skills until I was more mature in myself and life experiences..How wrong could I be!!

Due to some disappointing career choices during 2019 I found myself looking at the job sections online, I have to state that the move from working in a clinical nurses setting to one of a counselling nature has been tremendously difficult for me, I have now come to realise the need to volunteer to gain that much valued experience that is so eagerly required by possible employees.

On 19th March I attended an interview for the position of 111 mental heath agent. This was to be a new mental health crisis support line for the general public to call when experiencing mental health concerns. At this point in the month we knew that there was going to be the possibility of a country wide lockdown and when I met up with the other agents we tried to imagine how this all would work out for us as well as for the general public.

111 mental health help

March 23rd Monday

I had a taster session at the Mental Health Trust for about 4 hours. I have absolutely no experience of the technology required to make or take calls for this particular service. My head swam with taking in all the information that was needed. Everytime that I looked at my phone there were some types of alerts as to the current state of the country and how the Government was going to act. Within the office I was situated in there appeared to be an air of both excitement and trepidation. At 14.00hrs the management of the Trust came to all offices to explain that as of 16.00hrs the Trust would close as lockdown had been implemented. I drove home down very empty roads with my new laptop, headset and very little knowledge.

March 25th Wednesday

first shift, 4pm-12am My first shift covered early evening to the night shift. It takes roughly 15 minutes to log in to the system, this is because you have a great deal of access to the NHS records so privacy and confidentiality has to be observed. I log into the agent page and see the four other names who I am working with, I also check the email to see what has been happening over the last 24 hours on the crisis line.
At 4pm exactly my shift begins, I wait nervously for a call to come through, it takes 7 mins for me to get my first call allocated. I begin with my opening introduction of the service the caller has rung and who I am. I can hear that the caller realises that they would like to discuss physical health care symptoms rather than mental health symptoms and before allowing me to transfer them they hang up…what an anti climax!! I feel totally deflated and take it all rather personally. I get a few calls like that during that first shift, it appears to me that when a caller decides they need to reach out for help that sometimes the ability to listen to corresponding numbers to services can be challenging. You can hear the panic and frustration in their voice. I try to be as reassuring and patient as I can always in my mind that there is a home out there in some form of turmoil and they don’t need to hear a cold voice when asking for help.

March 26th Thursday 4pm-12am

Today is my second shift as 111 mental health agent, I am concerned that today will be the day that I receive that call that I cannot manage or do not know where to signpost on to for the relevant support. As I read the emails from the previous day I understand that other agents have had to call for Police support for various callers in crisis, there appears to be a general theme amongst these calls that unless those callers are in imminent danger or are endangering others then they will not attend!!! The calls I receive that evening are about general medication queries.

111 mental health help

But then I receive a call from the distressed wife of a man who has Dementia, I can hear him in the background ranting and swearing at his wife who is trying to explain to me that his medication does not appear to be relaxing him. My mind races… I call the local mental health clinician and give the details over all the time reassuring the wife that something is being done to help but knowing in my heart that apart from speaking to a trained mental health practitioner that there will be nobody able to attend in person tonight. I wonder what happens and hope that the situation settles and that both involved are reassured.

March 27th Friday 4pm-12am

This is to be my last shift of this week, I get the usual calls about lost prescriptions and people becoming more concerned about the COVID 19 virus, it is beginning to feel like the virus is affecting the caller. There is a slight panic detectable in their voices and I wonder when it is going to be difficult to distinguish between those with physical health care concerns or those with mental issues. One of the calls I receive later that evening is from a male caller, he is stating that due to the virus he does not feel that he is able to stay at home anymore and is proceeding to the local bridge to commit suicide by jumping off. I feel nauseous. I try to remain calm in my voice and take as much detail from the caller as possible. My initial instinct is to call for the Police but as I look at the medical records for the caller It appears that this is the 3rd call placed to 111 today, I am able to read what has happened previously and ascertain that the caller has extensive mental health history. Using all my skills with risk assessment I decided to call the local mental health clinician for advice and support rather than the Police at this time. I give over all the information to the clinician who when I give the name instantly recognises the caller. I liaise back to the caller who still appears to want to interact and inform him of what I have done and who I have contacted. At this point I transfer the call over to the mental
health practitioner. It’s now the end of my shift. It’s 12am and I need to get some sleep but how do you manage to do that with so many questions in your head? Have I done the right thing? Will the caller be ok and supported appropriately? As I get into bed my husband asks sleepily if the shift went well…I tell him yes it was fine. Why would I ever burden someone with those thoughts and concerns as they go to sleep? To say the very least I didn’t get much sleep that night.


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