5 Nov 2014

One teen’s experience of ‘isolating’ mental health provision

As a new report points out serious failings in children’s mental health services, one teenager tells Channel 4 News about being sent to A&E by his headteacher and told to stop “blackmailing” teachers.

Sam* was 15 when he was treated for suicidal thoughts and psychotic hallucinations. Over the course of nine months he was seen by two psychiatrists and two therapists, having to start from scratch with treatment each time.

“It was a constant cycle of ups and downs with mood,” he told Channel 4 News. “Your therapy gets into the same cycle as your symptoms. It was a repetitive cycle of not getting anywhere.”

Hi school in Birmingham wasn’t much better. “When I was suicidal, I would often break down in school. I would tell my form teacher: ‘I’m really struggling, I feel close to crisis’,” he says now. “He referred me to the headteacher, because he didn’t know how to deal with me. The head got very angry and asked why I was blackmailing my teachers.”

Read more on Victoria Macdonald's blog: 'Serious problems' in children's mental health services

During one particularly bad episode, in which he says he was hallucinating, talking a lot, and “wasn’t really in touch with reality”, the school called an ambulance and he was sent to A&E.

They said he couldn’t come back until he was “stable” and he became an in-patient over Easter – just before his GCSEs. At this mental health hospital, he didn’t come into contact with any health professionals for 12 whole days.

“It was an incredibly emotional time,” he said. “It’s very isolating, especially when you don’t have the nurses there or the professionals who aren’t supposed to be designated to you.”

Sarah Brennan, chief executive of YoungMinds on the health select committee report on child and adolescent mental health services: "For far too long we have heard over and over again from young people and their families about the overwhelming distress caused by lack of access to mental health services.
"We have been told countless times of the intense frustration of mental health professionals as they attempt to do their best for children, young people and their families who are suffering on a daily basis. We hear from teachers facing a tidal wave of mental health problems, and deep frustration from professionals and commissioners asking us how can they plan and deliver services when information on the scale of young people's mental health problems is ten years out of date and their resources are devastated.
"The health select committee report proves beyond all doubt that children and young people's mental health services are facing a major crisis. The publication of this report must be a pivotal moment in addressing this crisis, our response has got to change, no longer can we sit back and pretend this isn't happening."

Now 19, he says his treatment improved significantly once he was on the right anti-psychotic drugs. He was able to go and take his GCSEs and A-levels.

But he welcomes today’s report, particularly the call for more teacher training and more joined up care, with communication between the various strands of CAMHS (child and adolescent mental health services) support.

“The people I saw and my teachers, they wanted to help and wanted the best for me,” he said. “But it was a case of not knowing where to turn.

“Training on that and more confidence from teachers to know where to go would mean the situation could be handled much better.”

*Name has been changed