The Fight to Survive

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“There is no coverage at all in the South East area for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services when staff are on leave…leaving staff stressed, overworked, and unable to deliver a standard of care that they would want. The long waiting lists put young people in dire need of emergency care at severe risk.” - Senator Grace O’Sullivan

‘Anna’ sat in the corner couch of her sitting room in a Waterford city suburb, a soft drink can perched on her lap as she told The Munster Express about the struggle which has dominated her childhood and adolescence. A struggle which has led her to self-harm and, just a few months ago, attempt to take her life by suicide.
Her mother ‘Jane’ (both agreed to this interview on condition that their real names would not be used) is sitting nearby as Anna articulated what it’s like to be a teenager living with suicidal ideation.
As we settled into our conversation, it occurred to me that, 15 years earlier, I’d sat in another sitting room, directly opposite us on the same street, and the recollection of visiting there for similar reasons sent a chill through me as I drove home afterwards.

Back in 2003, I’d been asked to visit the same neighbourhood to take details for an appreciation about a young man, a nephew and first cousin to the family in question, who had died by suicide a few months earlier, having attempted to take his life on another occasion. Yet the key and welcome difference between both stories is that Anna (15) is still here, and she commendably wanted to share some of her thoughts with me. “I think that talking about this is helping,” said Anna. “I used to think that the whole world was against me. I don’t feel that way now and I don’t want to feel that way again.” Her mother’s face, a picture of compassion, love and pride throughout our interview, shone at that moment.

Anna said the headlines of recent weeks in relation to consultant psychiatric services in the South East had underlined a sentiment which she, as a patient, has long since felt.
“There definitely should be more services, especially for people my age. I feel like there’s not enough being done for teenagers when you first present yourself to services: I felt like I wasn’t being listened to at all. I was given medication and was told I’d be seen again in a fortnight and that’s all it was – medication – and it wasn’t even the right medication for me so yeah, they definitely could have done a lot more.”
Jane then entered the conversation and spoke about the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). “We really rely on them to do their job,” she said, just hours after Anna’s latest meeting with them.
“Last March (2017), Anna was in a bad space and she started going to Pieta House because she was having dark thoughts and was thinking a certain way. She went to Pieta for three months and they were brilliant in there to her and saw her very quickly, twice a week for three weeks and then every week – and she came out of that stronger in herself. Last summer was relatively okay, she still wasn’t 100 per cent back to herself and then went back to school last September. But by October she was back into Pieta House so at that point, we went back to the GP and got a referral to CAMHS as well – the year before she’d been bullied and I thought the reason we’d been in Pieta House earlier was because of the bullying; I felt it was a situational thing – but when Anna got into a bad place again I began to think that there could well be more going on. So we got the referral to CAMHS last November and at the same time I asked my GP to do a referral to a private psychiatrist in Dublin that I’d researched because I felt if I got a full assessment done on Anna and then sent that unto CAMHS because I knew we’d be waiting, that they’d take us more seriously. I felt that would help them to pull out all the stops, given the additional information that they’d have about Anna.”

Alas, Jane’s efforts, as she described it, did very little to further matters for her daughter. “I sent in the report to them (CAMHS) and I heard nothing back, I got no acknowledgment. Anna’s counsellor at Pieta House had called me into a few sessions at various points and told me that Anna was very suicidal – as in a 9 out of 10 risk – and that I needed to ensure she was watched 24/7 and to go to A&E if I had to, to keep her safe. So I then rang CAMHS, stating that Anna has been referred to them by my GP the previous October/November, I’d sent them on a private diagnosis and that I needed to see them: this was just before Christmas and by then I was literally reduced to begging. I did eventually get an appointment with a doctor who is out sick at the moment and he saw Anna for about an hour and he prescribed her valium for a month – one in the morning and one at night – until her next appointment, which was due to be the end of January…I was so desperate by then I would have tried anything to keep Anna safe.”

For full text of this story see this week’s print edition of The Munster Express

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