Reasons to be angry

cloudsWhen 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Nora’s descent from a happy, confident and popular child to someone who is mute, withdrawn and suicidal has been tough.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.

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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.

More information

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.

 

* not her real name

Nora’s story

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Six months before her twelfth birthday, my daughter Nora (not her real name) started suffering from anxiety.

Over the course of a few months, the anxiety got worse (with terrifying speed, despite counselling and medication). Nora became severely depressed.

Our lives changed completely as we struggled to deal with what was happening to our family.

Before she fell ill, Nora was a happy, confident, funny, cheeky girl with lots of friends. By the time her birthday came around, Nora’s depression was so bad she no longer spoke, she was unable to get out of bed or get herself dressed without help. She barely ate and had lost so much weight we thought she’d have to be fed through a tube. She was self-harming and extremely suicidal. She had to be hospitalised more than once.

Nora also developed ‘psychomotor retardation’,  a condition that slows down your thought processes and body movements. It is, apparently, commonly seen in people with major depression. Believe me when I tell you it isn’t something you ever want to witness in your own child.

Several times a day, Nora had horrific meltdowns, when the weight of what she was enduring simply became too much to bear. These meltdowns were the only time she spoke, repeating the same three sentences over and over:

Please let me die.

I’m can’t do this; it’s too hard.

Make it stop; please, make it stop.

We are a family of four: mum, dad, Nora and her older brother. When Nora became ill and I realised we may lose her, all I could think of was that number. We are four – a square not a triangle. If there’s no Nora, who are we? I still haven’t worked that out; I hope I never have to.

I’ve gone from being a busy, working mother to full time carer. I don’t regret giving up my job. I don’t regret a single thing if it means I can get my girl better again.

Parenting a sick child is never easy. Parenting a child with a mental health illness comes with its own peculiar set of issues. It can feel lonely and overwhelming.

I started this blog because I believe it’s important we talk honestly about mental health. Reading other parents’ experiences has helped me enormously. If I can do the same for someone else, that will mean something.

At the time of writing this, Nora is still not speaking, has constant thoughts of suicide, and remains severely depressed. On the positive side, we have seen some improvements. She is eating more, and she has started to have days that are better than others. Of course, even these good days are very far removed from the girl she once was and the life she once had.

And yet…we are 100% optimistic that Nora will make a full recovery. She is an amazing girl and, more than anything, I want her to have the amazing life she so deserves to have. As part of a family of four, not three.

This blog is dedicated to her.

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