This weekend I have had the great pleasure of spending time with an amazing organisation who support people in crisis. We all have mental health, the same way we all have physical health. Assuming we are immune to poor mental health is equivalent to assuming we will never catch a cold or suffer a tummy bug, throughout our lives both will experience peaks and troughs. There is still a stigma attached to mental health issues and people often don’t know where to turn. Their GP can be dismissive if the issue is not “serious enough”, or dish out tablets like sweets so people can suffer in silence until something detonates the issue and they require urgent intervention.
So what about these people in the middle ground? Stricken with anxiety or depression, suffering grief or financial strain, perhaps turning to drugs or alcohol to cope. Being lonely and isolated during the night can be scary, even if you do have friends or family around would they really appreciate a phone call late on a Saturday night? There are help lines and charities who can lend an ear but they miss that personal touch and often lack continued support. Regularly people will turn to 999, in despair and afraid they need someone to help them. Police officers have a duty of care and will do their best but their limited resources need to be out fighting crime. The NHS is over stretched and have to priorities cases; who do they treat first someone in cardiac arrest or the anxious person who feels life is getting too much for them? The cracks in the mental health service are so severe that bus loads of people can fall through them until, perhaps ironically, they turn to crime or self harm to get noticed and become the business of our sinking emergency services anyway.
Through both work and personal life I am aware of numerous mental health organisations and charities so I am all too aware of the strict criteria many of them have in place. This restricts their client base or the length of time they will work with someone which can make people feel like an inconvenient number rather than an human in need. This is why discovering NightLight and the Complex Needs Service was so refreshing. I was also told that if something was too good to be true then it probably was but this doesn’t seem to be the case here. The staff are made up of employees with an extensive background in mental health work and volunteers who are ex service users or have personal experience with mental health issues. The one thing they have in common is that they can see the cracks other services create and are passionate about putting the humanity back in to mental health support.
They are headed up by Carol, a superhero without a cape, she is one of the most caring and supportive people I have ever met. This is combined with a healthy amount of common sense and compassion for her team as well as the clients they deal with. No one goes unnoticed and if it is within her power it will be achieved. The service has bases around Hertfordshire and a helpline open Friday, Saturday, Sunday & Monday nights. They have the time to talk to people who are in a state of crisis, listen to their needs as an individual and provide practical advice on the issues they are facing. The centres are sanctuaries that people can visit should the need arise, a space away from the daunting reality of their situation where they can talk to someone, gain focus and be given time to look at their options.
They shared stories of carers who were at the end of their tether and needed to get out of the house, NightLight gave them this space and put them in contact with agencies who could help them. Someone hearing voices in the night was too scared to be alone so regular calls were made to them throughout the night to prevent any escalation. Someone with mental health issues being sent letters from a bailiff and didn’t understand what was happening was able to seek advice and guidance on their rights, enabling them to cope with the situation rather than let it get out of hand. There approaching is practical yet client centred, supporting people to help themselves.
The service they provide is unique, I believe Hertfordshire is only the 2nd county in the country to have anything like this. It’s importance is highlighted in the comments left by clients in the guestbook. They make it clear that helplines have made them feel like they were “talking to a brick wall”. No one else has “understood their needs” and offered such practical guidance. My favourite comment being “It was like being saved by 2 angels in a vauxhall corsa”!! You can’t help but wonder what the fate of these people would be if they had not found NightLight.
Being an out of hours service they work closely with the Complex Needs Service who can then take on clients after the crisis and work with them on an more ongoing basis. Assisting them complete forms for housing or council, ensuring their benefits are right, supporting them through court cases, helping them cope with social anxiety and integrate the into a supportive society. There is little they can’t help with.
The vastness of these two services means we should not have people within our society feeling isolated and afraid, turning to drink, crime or ending their lives because they didn’t meet the right criteria to access support. Being funded by the local authority puts these organisations on risky ground, if they are not able to evidence their viability there is a chance that funding will be stopped. This simply can’t happen and the team work tirelessly promoting their services via GP surgeries, Hospitals, Police stations, drug & alcohol clinics and anywhere else they can think of. Time dedicated by volunteers is vital in this area as there are not enough hours in the day for the staff to do everything.
Long live this amazing service because one day it may be you that needs rescuing by 2 angels in a vauxhall Corsa!