Sarah's story: In support of our Christmas appeal, Sarah's mum Shauna blogs about trying to find support for her daughter when she needed it the most.
Sarah’s always been very enthusiastic and determined. And, on top of that, mature and conscientious, and was doing extremely well at school. She seemed to have lots of friends. So, to me, she seemed like one of the last people you would expect to have a problem.
She’d always struggled a bit with anxiety but over the course of 2018 it got much worse. She became completely overwhelmed and wasn’t coping at school and she found it difficult to stay in lessons.
There was a lot going on for Sarah outside school too. She was exploring her identify – and eventually came out as gay. We were having major building work done on our house which was very disruptive and chaotic and made Sarah extremely anxious - she couldn’t really handle the unpredictability of it. On top of that, her relationship with her dad deteriorated and she became very difficult towards him.
"She seemed like one of the last people you would expect to have a problem."
She was 15 and in year 10 when we got a call from her school to say that she had confided in a teacher that she was self-harming. I was terrified to be told this.
Things got dramatically worse. Soon after we got another call from the school, saying that Sarah had reported having suicidal thoughts.
Her GP got her an urgent referral to Child and Adolescent mental health services (CAMHS). She was assessed by CAMHS relatively quickly. The mental health nurse who did the assessment was lovely, but at the end of the assessment she was put on a waiting list for 9 months. She was so unwell and I couldn’t believe she’s have to wait this long. It was devastating. No help was offered in the meantime.
"She was 15 and in year 10 when we got a call from her school to say that she had confided in a teacher that she was self-harming. I was terrified to be told this."
Over the next two months, her mental health continued to deteriorate rapidly. Things got so bad for Sarah that she didn’t feel safe at home or at school. She was completely withdrawn and in a permanent state of anxiety at home and couldn’t participate in school. She had overwhelming intrusive thoughts and regular uncontrollable impulses to run away or hurt herself.
A series of crises resulted in three separate visits to A&E. Each time, her mental health was assessed, but each time we were discharged and left feeling completely let down, and with no help provided. We were absolutely beside ourselves. Sarah was clearly still desperately unwell, severely anxious and at significant risk. One of the most chilling things I have ever had to do was removing anything from the house I thought Sarah might use to harm herself with.
In desperation we turned to the private sector and paid for her to see a psychiatrist and counsellor, and this was the turning point. Sarah was diagnosed with autism. She was also prescribed medication which meant that she was able to benefit from therapy and get the support she needed at school.
"Each time, her mental health was assessed, but each time we were discharged and left feeling completely let down."
Six months on, she is doing really well and working hard for her year 10 exams. Things are so different to this time last year. I dread to think where we would be now if we were still waiting to access this help through CAMHS.
Young people like Sarah deserve support. Waiting nine months for help is equivalent to a whole school year. That’s a year of education – and a year of life – they can’t get back. There were so many missed opportunities to help her.
"I dread to think where we would be now if we were still waiting to access this help through CAMHS. There were so many missed opportunities to help her."
Schools can play such an important role. Sarah’s school tried their best but they don’t have the resources to cope with the demand for support – so many young people are struggling. Sarah’s school has a counsellor one day a week, to cater for a massive secondary school. It’s not enough.
That’s why I’m supporting the work Mind is doing in schools. Mental health needs to be talked about more in schools, to help to reduce the stigma, and to help young people understand and talk about their feelings, so that they can get help before they reach crisis point.
Sarah's mum, Shauna
Our children are facing a mental health crisis. We're determined to ensure every young person gets the support they deserve. Your gift to our Christmas appeal could help in so many ways. It could pay for workshops and support groups in schools, it could help us train teachers and support staff to look after their own mental health, and it could give young people the chance to grow up in a supportive environment where mental health is taken seriously.
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