Behind the scenes of Norwich and Norfolk Mind mental health support line
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2016
As we fight to save the mental health support line run by Norwich and Central Norfolk Mind, reporter Josh Hanrahan spends an afternoon with the team to see just how vital it is
The clock strikes 2pm and, as if on cue, the phones start to ring.
We're in the loft of a large house in Norwich – perhaps the last place you'd expect to find one of Norfolk's biggest lifesavers.
But this room, part of Mind's branch headquarters in Sale Road, on the Heartsease estate, is where the support line team does so much good work for the county's most vulnerable people.
In the first hour of opening, the Mind support line receives 12 calls.
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That's a dozen distressed individuals, most of them regular callers, all needing reassurance that everything's going to be OK.
In this instance only seven get that support. A reinforcement is called in to help, but still some calls go unanswered.
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That's because, with an operating budget of just £10,000 a month, the service can normally provide just one operator at any time. Ideally it would like to expand, but it might have to close.
An announcement by the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT) on Monday that funding to the service would be cut left those who rely on it devastated.
It is because of this that inside the support line call room – where I was privileged to be able to spend some time on Wednesday afternoon – the mood is more sombre than usual.
It hits everyone hard: callers and call-takers alike.
A common topic of concern from callers over recent days has been the support line's future. Where will they turn?
Hospitals, doctors and their families are the obvious answer, but none provides the specialised understanding of the support line.
Part of the reason for that is because those who answer the phones have often had their own experience of mental health conditions.
Ben Marshall, a former psychology student at UEA, is now a team leader. His biggest fear, like all other team members, is that if the phones aren't answered beyond March, the consequences could be deadly.
'It's a real worry,' he said. 'We provide that blanket of safety when they're in their own home and they're talking to somebody; the confidence that it's completely confidential at the other side of it. They can then disclose what they need to. You find that's rare.'
There are several factors determining the cost of the line.
Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, there's the cost Mind has to pay to make it free for users. Then there's the phone handling program which allows calls to come through and for information to be logged.
And then there's the cost of employing staff, most of whom are part time.
I've been incredibly fortunate to have a good family history with mental health. But I only realised just how fortunate I was this week.
If there's one thing I learned in my time with the team, it's that Norfolk needs it. It could be you, your children, your parents, friends or partners that one day need to call on it. The team tell me that today's first caller falls into the highest category of concern and they call a crisis team to attend.
The danger is that next time this person calls, there will be no one to talk them back from the brink.
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SUPPORT LINE IS A LIFE SAVER
Anita Channell, 34, is a mother of three young boys from Acle. She suffers from body dysmorphia. She calls the Mind Support Line when she is feeling at her lowest and says it has saved her on many occasions.
'I've been very desperate, at times even suicidal, and it's sad because you feel like there's no one else to talk to – but then they're there. They understand and they help.
'I'd been having a terrible time and I thought 'I just have no one else to talk to about this' so I called them, and then over the course of a few months I'd call them when I needed help.
'They were just so amazing and understanding; they just talk so much sense and
could calm me down, when my mum, family or doctors couldn't.
'It is just when I find myself at those times when I feel like I can't go on.
'Even with everyone around me, there's only so much they can talk to me about it.
'I'm lucky because I have a lot of family, but some people – which I found out going into hospital – they have no one. Literally no one.
'That support line can be a life saver.'
ABOUT THE CAMPAIGN
The support line, run by the Norfolk and Central Norwich branch of Mind, costs just £120,000 a year to run, receives around 800 calls a month and has been proven to save lives.
Despite this, Norfolk's Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), which funded it until last year, say they will not find the cash to keep it going beyond March.
The Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT), which picked up the tab for the past six months as a temporary measure, says it needs extra funds if it is going to continue paying for it. The losers in all of this are the scores of people who need to call on its help during times when no other suitable service is available. A team operates from 2pm to midnight during the week and 24 hours a day at the weekend, talking to people when they are struggling to cope, but not serious enough to need to see a mental health nurse.
Our WeMind campaign has received the backing of more than 1,000 people on the change.org website, while dozens more have tweeted in support using #WeMind.