The mental health services for children and adolescents in the UK are failing many vulnerable members of society. It is thought that the funding for this vital area of care was cut by £50m during the course of the last parliament.
Two years ago, in the spring of 2013, I started to seek help for a numerous amount of difficulties I was experiencing. It started with a trip to see the GP, who later told me that she would refer me to CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services). But when CAMHS received my referral, they rejected it, telling me that I didn’t “fit their criteria.” At the time, I didn’t fully understand why not-or indeed, what their criteria actually was. It had become a thing of common knowledge that the service only tended to see young people who engaged in self harm, or were deemed to be a risk to themselves, which looking back, was definitely true. With great guilt and shame, I took it upon myself to become one of them. Intellectually, I knew that it wasn’t the solution to my problems-but that didn’t change my feelings. Being the result of a downwards mental spiral, I didn’t feel as if I had another choice. It was also a cry for help to a world that wouldn’t listen to words. Not attention-seeking, but attention-needing. I wasn’t doing any severe damage to myself, just some minor abrasions, like cat scratches, and I think because of this, I was overlooked.
I was eventually put on the waiting list for CAMHS, but it was eight months until I came face to face with a therapist, and by that point, I had deteriorated rapidly. A pattern of staff leaving, causing shortages, seemed to emerge, and subsequently, over the course of a year, I was passer from pillar-to-post until I was assigned to a woman who told me that she was not willing to start therapy until I stopped self harming, which had become my primary coping mechanism and also somewhat of an addiction. By this time, the frequency and severity of the injuries had increased slightly. Among other things, I tried to explain to her that physical self destruction was more of a symptom of a psychological issue, and therefore shouldn’t be the focus of all our sessions-but we couldn’t see eye-to-eye and my case at CAMHS was closed.
From then on, I remained completely unsupported by the service. In retrospect, that was probably the trigger for my A and E visits, that took place having been amidst a complete breakdown. They sent a crisis team on one occasion, but even then, I felt that their only reason for showing was to tick a box-so that they wouldn’t be held liable if I killed myself that night. It was somewhat of a conveyor belt. In mid-December 2014, they offered me yet another place on their waiting list, telling me that alternative therapy was being planned, but that it could be as far away as September this year.
Later on after the incidents, I would always wonder if |I had done enough and, wrongly, blame myself for not hurting myself even more prolifically than I already had done. I used the false logic that, if I had, I might have received help. But after a while, I came to the realisation that there was nothing I could have done that would have caused them to support me.
And that’s terrible. Almost negligent. Children shouldn’t feel as if they have to up the ante by hurting themselves because they are too desperate to keep suffering alone. Or that their self harm somehow carries a sense of failure, as it does not require hospital treatment. But even the therapists themselves seem unable to look past the physical side of the pain. In 2014, about 6700 young people aged 10-14 were admitted to hospital , having deliberately harmed themselves in some way-and being one of those, it makes me wonder just how many of those cases could have been prevented if we had high quality early intervention.
At the end of a long battle, I was fortunate enough to receive funding from more distant family members, contributing towards the cost of private therapy, which came as a huge financial strain. I am grateful for my luck, and despite still having a long fight ahead, I feel as if I now have a support system in place.
But my heart still goes out to those parents, who, within 21st century, cannot source the appropriate resources that they so desperately need. What will happen to their children? It makes me wonder if they’ll still be here to witness the improvements in the system that are so frequently talked about.
The government has promised to invest £150m into children’s mental health services. Until then, it will remain a case of the survival of the fittest, and I can only hope that the Conservatives will begin to realise that we need a welfare state-but somehow, I highly doubt that. Otherwise, young people across the UK will continue to fall through the gaps.