Being young with a mental illness

This piece includes personal stories. For this reason please be trigger aware when reading.

Just recently there has been a lot of talk in the press about the number of young people being diagnosed with a mental illness, as well as a lot of talk about the state of the services they have at their disposal. Below I’ve included some facts from and I also intend to discuss my own personal experience of being a young person who has a mental illness.

“1 in 10 children and young people aged 5 – 16 suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder – that is around three children in every class.
Between 1 in every 12 and 1 in 15 children and young people deliberately self-harm.
There has been a big increase in the number of young people being admitted to hospital because of self harm. Over the last ten years this figure has increased by 68%.
More than half of all adults with mental health problems were diagnosed in childhood. Less than half were treated appropriately at the time.
Nearly 80,000 children and young people suffer from severe depression.
Over 8,000 children aged under 10 years old suffer from severe depression.
72% of children in care have behavioural or emotional problems – these are some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
95% of imprisoned young offenders have a mental health disorder. Many of them are struggling with more than one disorder.
The number of young people aged 15-16 with depression nearly doubled between the 1980s and the 2000s.
The proportion of young people aged 15-16 with a conduct disorder more than doubled between 1974 and 1999.”

It’s hard for me to pinpoint when I first became ill. I normally base it on when I first self harmed which was when I was thirteen nearly fourteen, although I did not receive any professional help until I reached the age of nineteen, after a suicide attempt.

When I look back though there were missed opportunities with teachers from school and doctors that I visited, who did not seem to take what I was saying, or what they were told by others, seriously until it got to a point where I was attempting to take my own life. This is something that has been pointed out as a failure in children and adolescent mental health services.

Now a quick note before I mention two of the missed opportunities that I have identified. At one of these times I was unwell to the point that I didn’t realise I was unwell and was very reluctant to be helped with something that was, to me, not really a problem. However looking back I can see how ill I really was and actually how obvious, when certain parts of my behaviour were made public, it was that I was actually quite unwell. Therefore, to an extent, I can understand why some things were missed.

The first opportunity that I identified as possibly being missed was when I was fourteen and involved a teacher at my secondary school who was told by a couple of friends of mine about my self harm. By this point I had been self harming for nearly a year. The conversation my friends had with this teacher led to me being called out of my tutor group to speak with her about the situation I was currently in. I was asked to roll my sleeves up and therefore to show the self harm to her. I was reluctant as I knew it wasn’t usual and something to be kept hidden. After I had shown the teacher my self harm she said that she would have to let my parents know, something which I was desperate to avoid due to my home situation at the time.

The next day I went to see the teacher in question and begged her not to discuss this with my parents. I have since learnt that this should have been a warning in itself and obvious indicator that more help was required, however I did manage to persuade her not to talk with my parents on the condition that I saw one of the mentors at school. However this never happened and I was left to my self harming ways which continued to deteriorate.

The reason I identified this as a possible missed opportunity is that someone in a position of authority and with a duty of care did nothing in response to a child who was obviously physically harming themselves when in fact this was a safeguarding issue. My training in safeguarding matters, which I realise may have changed in the 6 years between the incident and the time of my training, shows that this is an issue that should have been reported no matter what protests I made at the time, and in fact more so due to those protests. This opportunity could of led to me getting help five years earlier than was the case and may of prevented some of the events that followed.

The second opportunity I have identified was a doctors appointment I made when I was seventeen. I had decided that actually, maybe, I needed help. I had by this point been self harming nearly four years and had in fact had increasing thoughts and actions surrounding suicide. My parents were still unaware of the state of my mental health. I made the doctors appointment secretly in a bid to still conceal from my parents what was going on.

The appointment started off well enough with her assessing me for depression and coming to the conclusion that, that was indeed the cause of the issues I was having. The doctor was even considering me for counselling to help me. And then came the line that made this appointment unsuccessful for me. The doctor asked whether my parents were aware of my issues and when I declared that they weren’t she told me “well doesn’t it suggest that you do not love your parents, if you don’t tell them.” At that point I shut off from everything the doctor said and decided that if this was going to be the reaction of professionals I would deal with my issues on my own. I never attended any counselling and as far as I can remember it was never actually set up.

The reason I looked at this as a missed opportunity is that the actions that were discussed were never set up for me and because of the doctors reaction I did not follow it up. Some of the reasons behind it being a missed opportunity were down to me as I was unwell and felt that this option wasn’t going to help me. I understand that now, but also if the doctor had responded differently maybe I would not have become disillusioned with the NHS so quickly and may have accepted and followed up on the help that I needed. As it happened the next time I really came to the attention of the professionals was during a suicide attempt.

These situations were just a couple of examples of possible missed opportunities. I understand that over time some things have changed but reading the news and reports of other young people and children being let down it still seems that these changes have not been enough yet. More changes to avoid these situations need to be put in place. Hopefully with the campaigning of charities, such as Young Minds and Rethink, we will start to see an improvement. I also hope that the changes that are made will improve the transfer of young people from CAMHs to Adult mental health services as well. This happens at a much younger age than when it happened to me at age twenty. I keep my fingers crossed for all the young people who have to go through this in the future.

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