What It's Like Going to the A&E After a Suicide Attempt in the U.K.


In 2015 I tried to kill myself. There’s no point in beating around the bush, or dancing around the words, I wanted to die and I tried to make that happen. It was the latest in a series of suicide attempts that have peppered my life from the age of 11 onwards.

The only difference between this suicide attempt and my previous ones was that I called the ambulance myself. In the U.K. we have a service called NHS 24, which means we can call a number anytime we want and speak to a doctor or a nurse about our condition. From there they will decide whether it’s serious enough for you to go to the hospital immediately, go and see a doctor in an out-of-hours service, or just wait until the doctor opens if it’s less serious.

I was alone all day, and quite quickly afterwards began to regret my decision. I was afraid, so I called NHS 24 where they advised me to dial 9-9-9 (the U.K. version of 9-1-1). The ambulance arrived around 45 minutes later, which wasn’t a problem, I had already told the operator what I had taken and she advised if there were patients that needed to be dealt with before me, they would be. But it was the attitude of the paramedics who picked me up that I took an issue with. By the time they arrived the pills I had taken had begun to take effect. I was slurring my words, my vision was blurred and I couldn’t move very quickly. They spoke to me for around 10 minutes and told me to follow them down the stairs to the ambulance.

At no point did they help me get to the ambulance, despite the fact that I was clearly struggling on my feet at this time. I walked down four flights of stairs, hanging onto the rail as I went and I could barely see the steps. They went downstairs ahead of me, and nobody offered to assist me in walking in anyway. As the female paramedic spoke to me she snapped, and acted like I was wasting everybody’s time. She was sighing and rolling her eyes at me.

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Once I was in the hospital things begin to get blurry, I only really remember being in a cubicle and lying on a bed. However I do have one memory of accidentally pulling the wire of the IV out of my arm and watching blood cascade down my skin – it was a genuine accident, but I was quickly reprimanded.

That night I was moved to a ward and had an IV in my arm, my stepmum came to visit and my throat was as dry as the Sahara Desert. I kept having to clear it or cough, there was no saliva in my mouth and I was feeling very uncomfortable. I kept asking for water and was firmly told “no” by the nurses.

The entire experience was traumatizing, not just because of what I had done to myself, but the general attitude of the nurses and paramedics who saw me throughout. They treated me like I shouldn’t have been there, like I was wasting their time when mental health problems should be just as important as physical ones. Personal prejudices should also not interfere with your professional job.

This is not a complaint at the U.K.’s NHS, I will be the first to say the day nurses on the ward were incredible and caring, and the paramedics who took me to the psychiatric ward the next evening were even more so. They engaged me, we chatted amicably the entire way and they were well aware why I had been in hospital. Did that fact that I was now being taken to a psychiatric ward alter their view of me? Did it make my condition more “serious”? It shouldn’t have.

There were more than 6,500 suicides in the U.K. in 2014. Female suicide rates increased by 8.3 percent on average. Suicide rates are getting higher, not lower, and the last thing victims need when they arrive in the A&E (Accident and Emergency, the U.K. version of an ER) is to be treated with scorn and contempt. We should be treated the same way as someone with a broken leg would be, or someone with cancer.

Just because I was under the influence of the overdose I had taken does not mean I will forget the way I was treated, and many health professionals are caring to the highest standard, but not everyone. This has to change. Perhaps more people would feel they could talk openly about their mental health problems, and it would never come to suicide attempts, if they were treated with more love and care in the health profession.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. 

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255


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