What is a Crisis Cafe?

As our local NHS asks for views on setting up a ‘Crisis Café’, we explain who they are for and how they work in other parts of England.
Infographic of Open sign

The aim of a Crisis Café is to be a safe, welcoming place where people can go outside of normal working hours, instead of A&E or other urgent services, if they are feeling emotionally distressed or are in a ‘mental health crisis’. 

Such a service could be available in the future to people in Reading, as our local NHS funding body (known as Berkshire West Clinical Commissioning Group) is running a survey until 10 December, 2019, asking people for feedback, such as what opening times people would prefer, whether it should be in a town centre or next to A&E, or what they think of the name.

Even if you haven’t had a chance to complete the survey before it ends, Healthwatch Reading can still take your feedback and pass it on to the CCG, who we recently met to chat about the idea.

Services like Crisis Cafes – or ‘Safe Havens’, ‘Sanctuaries’ or ‘Crisis Pads’ as they are known in other areas – look set up to become more common to help meet commitments on improving mental health care set out in The NHS Long Term Plan published at the start of 2019.

How Crisis Cafes work in other areas

Safe Havens in Surrey and North Hampshire

  • Offer a ‘safe, relaxed and friendly environment’ at voluntary sector premises
  • Open 6pm-8pm-or-11pm weekdays and afternoons and evenings at weekends
  • Staffed by a mental health practitioner, trained workers and people with a ‘lived experience of mental health needs’
  • People can drop in without a referral

Crisis Cafes, Leeds

  • Offer a ‘non-judgemental social place’ and safe place for people in crisis to go’
  • Open 6pm-midnight, rotating around three venues on various nights of the week
  • Staffed by support workers and trained therapists
  • People can get one-to-one therapy, practical support on social issues, activities, & hot food/ drinks
  • People can drop in or be referred

The Evening Sanctuary, Lambeth, London

  • Offers a ‘comfortable and welcoming environment’ in a ‘non-clinical space’
  • Open every night 6pm-2am
  • People can get snacks and refreshments,  activities, or relax in a quiet space
  • Staffed by support workers and peer volunteers
  • Transport to and from the venue can be arranged for people

Feedback from people have used such services includes:

“I’ve never felt so supported, listened to and appropriately cared for….There are probably six or maybe seven occasions where I’ve come here instead of where I would have gone to A&E or ended up spiralling out of control in this crisis and ended up doing something stupid.”

 “Between 5-7pm my anxiety increases, I worry that I will hear my voices so I come to the [venue] to distract me during these times.”

“All I wanted to do is stay at home all the time and didn’t go out as I was very scared or I would have a panic attack. I would cry all the time…Since I started [coming here], I go out on my own. I have made some new friends and I have a lot more support.”

National mental health charities like Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, back the idea of crisis cafes.

Outside of normal working hours, people in Reading experiencing a mental health crisis or in emotional distress, currently have the following options for getting help:

  • Calling the NHS 111 helpline, who can put you touch with health professionals
  • Calling the local crisis team, run by Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust
  • Visiting A&E if they feel their problem is life-threatening
  • Calling a mental health charity helpline such as The Samaritans.

Daytime support for people with mental health issues in Reading, includes:

  • Your GP
  • The NHS community mental health team (via referral from GP or social worker)
  • NHS Talking Therapies, which you can self-refer to
  • The Berkshire West Your Way charity, which offers drop-ins, groups, one-to-one support, advice on finances, work, housing and education, and peer support
  • Compass Recovery College, offering short courses on coping with mental health needs, life skills or arts activities
  • Sport in Mind, offering physical activity for people with mental health needs

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