Tuesday 6 February 2018

Children's Mental Health - what we really need #ChildrensMHW2018

It's easy for me to feel bitter and angry about the state of Children's Mental Health services in this country at the moment. I have every reason to believe it's a failing system that is understaffed, underfunded and consequently takes a long time to access and for any action to be implemented.

Last October the Care Quality Commission published a phase one report on children's mental health services. The full review and recommendations will be published next month. They've already found that because many different agencies can be involved, access to CAMHS and other services can be difficult and incredibly time-consuming. I could have told you that. So probably could anyone who has ever wanted to access CAMHS services.

Over the past 4 years we've learned far more about children's mental health services than we ever would have believed. Our family has been given an immense amount of help, for which I am eternally grateful. We had extreme circumstances and jumped to the top of the queues at first, and in the subsequent months we've had to wait patiently with everyone else and at times watch our young people deteriorate, completely impotent and unable to pull them out by ourselves. We've seen the holes in the service, the lack of knowledge-sharing, the time-pressure, the wrangling for financing from different departments in order to make things happen, and the waiting for red tape and meetings to sign off plans and be able to move forward.

I cannot fault any of the professionals we've met. I don't have a bad word to say about any of them because they were every bit as frustrated as we were. Their job often seems more about admin and knowing who to speak to than it is about clinical care and spending time with the people who need it.

I insisted when Elspeth died that all of our teenage children had access to counselling. I demanded it that morning, our Doctor sorted it out and they received it within a month. It was done, they had someone to talk to. I couldn't make them talk, I couldn't make them okay about their sister's death, but I did what I could and I didn't feel let down by the system.

I couldn't get any help for my youngest two, they were considered too young and their only 'counselling' was through myself and their Dad so as not to disrupt them any further. When we were asked "How are they doing?". I think we probably always just said "They're okay". They were eating and sleeping and coping with school, so everything was ticked off and shipshape.

In reality although my youngest 2 children were under the magic age of 7 when their sister died, they weren't able to just work through an immature understanding of grief and move on. Suicide of a teenage sibling isn't 'Grandma dying because she's old'. It's not normal, not an idea you can prepare for or ease children into gently by keeping hamsters.

For both of my youngest children, death by suicide now seems far more likely than Cancer or car accident. They won't talk to us about it, it feels awful and sad and they don't want to hurt us, but it's a reality and a fear they live with every day, and the only way we can try to make them feel more secure is by not dying.

I asked NHS services for help for my youngest 2 children 3 years ago and was told there was none. I approached 3 of the biggest UK child bereavement and suicide bereavement charities and asked them. None of them gave me any more than pamphlets about bereavement and sympathy. I have all the pamphlets. I was also signposted onwards by each of them, until I had come full circle and had little option or energy to do anything than give in and plod on alone.

Things have changed even within 3 years. Charities are stepping in to fill more of the gaps left by the children's mental health services. They're broadening the help they offer because there is a desperate need to do so. After advice from people including the amazing Becky at Diary Of A Fat Bottomed Girl and with a good shove and a bit of hand-holding from my excellent school SENCO, we approached children's charity Winston's Wish again and the boys were offered counselling. It's harder to open the box when it's been shut for a long time. but finally we are beginning to understand just how much their sister's death is affecting them, and they are beginning to face their own demons.

"CAMHS are turning away nearly a quarter (23%) of children referred to them for treatment by concerned parents, GPs, teachers and others."

More children are being diagnosed with many mental health problems than at any time before, and NHS services are stretched beyond capacity, with waiting lists for CAMHS referrals stretching up to an average 10 months before any treatment can begin. If you have just discovered your young person is potentially very ill, 10 months is an incredibly long time to wait for help. If you are only 12 years old, 10 months is an incredibly long time to wait for help.

Being a youngster should be about being a child and playing. Instead it's 7 year olds worrying about tests, 9 year olds who think they're fat, 13 year olds who fret about how many likes they get on Instagram. The modern world has loads of improvements and physically we can all live much longer, but in many ways it just seems to give us more opportunity to feel inadequate and stressed, and it starts so much younger than it used to. We need to work out how to redress that balance and concentrate on prevention, not running about in a panic once the damage is already done. If there isn't the money, trained staff or provision to care for everyone desperately in need of help, what chance do we ever have of catching people before their problems take hold?

"Suicide is the most common cause of death for boys aged between 5-19 years, and the second most common for girls of this age"

Our children and young people are doing fabulously. Exams have been taken, university places offered, flats moved into. They all work and study. They are all where we desperately hoped they would be, and although a couple lost some time, they found their way back to the track they want to follow. They got the help each of them needed, and thank heavens they got it swiftly for the most part, but I am painfully aware of just how many children and young people don't.

Children's Mental health has to become far more of a priority and it has to be implemented much more quickly. People don't usually ask for help until they are already desperate and have exhausted everything within their own power. These broken children are the broken adults of the future. We can spend time and care on them as children, or pay for the rest of their lives.

The following charities - where you should also find support if you need it:
Winston's Wish
Children's Mental Health Week 5-11 Feb 2018
Mental Health Statistics courtesy of  YoungMinds.Org

Further reading:
How Bereaved Kids Don't Officially Exist In The UK - Benjamin Brooks-Dutton.
Children's Mental Health Week 2017 - The Brick Castle


  1. Another powerful post Jenny

  2. Oh Jenny this is such an important thing to highlight. Children’s physical health seems to be brought to the media’s attention so often, government campaigns focus on vaccinations, healthy eating and more rightly so but our children’s emotional wellbeing seems to take a backbench and that’s just not right. I’m so glad that your boys are finally getting the support they need and should have had access to years ago, but you shouldn’t have had to search and fight so hard for it. You are so strong. Sending love to you all and hoping that that there is a way this broken system can be fixed before it’s too late.

    1. Thank you Jen. It really doesn't matter what you eat or how much you exercise if you are desperately unhappy, that becomes far more important. Fingers crossed that someone important starts shouting about children's mental health soon x

  3. It's sad to think that children have to wait so long for help. It's also difficult to understand when their children need help. I wish I'd had more help for my older children, I wish I'd known where to turn. It's so much easier to find information now and this need to be pushed so that parents do know where to go for help. We also need more help available, like you said, it's the only way to stop broken kids to grow into broken adults and broken adults are much more difficult to fix. Thank goodness your older children got the help they needed at the time they needed it. From the outside it looks like you and your family are doing well despite all that you've been through. xx

    1. It really is so hard to find unless you already know the system before you begin. 3 years ago I was hearing all these great things and wondering who the heck was receiving them? We are doing okay - some weeks better than others, some days more confident in ourselves than others.

  4. This is such an important subject to highlight. I think it's hard to know when children do need help. Sending lots of love xx


Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. I read every one and try my best to reply!