When she was eleven years’ old, my daughter Nora* was diagnosed with severe depression.
Nora’s descent from a happy, confident and popular child to someone who is mute, withdrawn and suicidal has been tough. It’s tough for those of us who love her, but toughest of all for Nora. Depression is a terrible illness that sucks all joy from your life, leaving you in a dark, empty world without light or hope.
Author Marion Keyes describes depression as being trapped inside the boot of a car with two Rottweilers. This is not a place I want my daughter to be. But she’s there and my job now is to find a way to get her back.
When I started thinking about this blog, I was planning to write a month by month account of Nora’s illness. I find I’m not able to do that; it’s too personal. That story is Nora’s to tell if she ever wants to, not mine.
So why am I doing this? Because, my friends, I am angry.
In the UK today, we are failing our young people. The growing rate of mental health problems in children and adolescents is not being dealt with. The latest figures from the mental health charity Young Minds shows just how big – and growing – this problem is:
- 1 in 10 children in the UK have a diagnosable mental health disorder; this doubles to one in five for young adults
- almost 1 in 4 children and young people show some evidence of mental ill health (including anxiety and depression)
- in 2015, suicide was the most common cause of death for boys and girls aged between 5 and 19.
Yet 3 in 4 (yes, that’s right: 3 in 4) children with a diagnosable mental health disorder do not get access to the support they need.
A mere 0.7% of the NHS budget is spent on children’s mental health; it’s no wonder so many children are not getting the help they need.
My daughter is being treated by the NHS Children and Adolescent Mental Health Service (commonly known as CAMHS). The people looking after her are brilliant. But getting seen by CAMHS isn’t easy.
If Nora ‘only’ had anger issues or anxiety, was ‘only’ self-harming, or ‘only’ had social anxiety which prevented her from going to school or having any sort of normal life, CAMHS in my part of the UK wouldn’t be able to treat her. They’re only able to take on the most serious cases.
I say ‘in my part of the UK’ because access to CAMHS services is a postcode lottery. In some areas of the UK, 75% of children and adolescents referred to CAMHS are not allocated a service.
For those lucky few who do get allocated a service, the average waiting time between referral and assessment ranges from just a week in some areas to more than 26 weeks in others. The average waiting time is almost 2 months.
Over the last few months, I’ve met a lot of parents who are struggling to get the help and support their sick child desperately needs. Understandably, these parents blame CAMHS for not being able to help them. I’d probably do the same if I was in their shoes.
But the problem isn’t the people working for CAMHS. They do a great job, but they’re not miracle workers. Without adequate funding and resources, they simply cannot support the growing number of children and adolescents being referred to them.
Our young people deserve better. The dedicated, caring people working in children and adolescent mental health deserve better. They are saving young people’s lives: the most important job there is.
I am new to the world of mental health activism. I know there are lots of people and organisations who’ve spent years fighting for greater awareness of, and more funding for, mental health illness.
I am proud to join that band of brave warriors.
The resources section of this site has links to mental health charities and other resources I’ve found useful.
You can read more about Nora and her illness here.