West Sussex mum shares her desperate battle to get mental health support for her teenage son: 'His life hangs in the balance'
This newspaper has been contacted by many parents who are seriously concerned about the mental health of their children and their children's friends.
Here, a local mother speaks about the traumas she has faced trying to get crisis support for her 14-year-old son. We have changed the names in this report to protect the privacy of the child involved.
Alfie was 11 years old when his mother realised he needed mental health support.
Mum Jane says it began after extreme bullying at school, which changed her son and sparked depression, anxiety and severe anger.
Since then things have escalated with self harm, an eating disorder, cannabis use and two attempts at suicide.
Single mum Jane believes he has undiagnosed ADHD, but says her constant efforts at getting help have left her desperate.
Alfie, now 14, has been excluded from school and continues to suffer, and she fears for his life.
She has lodged several official complaints, but has still been unable to access the help Alfie needs.
She believes mental health services need a huge injection of funds to stand any chance of meeting the growing needs of our young people.
Jane is fighting to raise awareness of the situation faced by her and other parents and has written letters to top politicians including Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Labour leader Keir Starmer as well as Horsham’s MP Jeremy Quin.
“My son is still extremely ill with undiagnosed ADHD/ASC, which he has had to live with since birth, and rapid escalation of mental health regulation,” Jane said.
“Now he has reached teenage years, he has slipped through the SEN net, throughout schooling and now his life hangs in the balance as do many others.
“He needs crisis help, which our Government should be supplying; these are the children of our future, but the various services are unable to cope with the high demand of teenage suicides, and eating disorders.
“I have now been left with the only option of paying privately for this help, and the various services involved have openly admitted they are not able to support my son’s needs due to the current crisis.
“I do not have the money to privately fund this, but as a parent watching your son daily suffering with trauma, as a parent I’m sure you will agree you would do anything to save them.”
Jane says she ‘fought tooth and nail’ for her son to get an assessment after he made a second attempt to end his life.
She was frustrated by the lack of help available and said the agencies blamed each other for delays and lack of action. During this time her son’s health deteriorated and he developed a-Typical Anorexia nervosa.
“This was a direct result of not getting the help he needs to support his mental stability and emotional regulation,” she said. Jane says she was told by medical professionals that Alfie had undiagnosed attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, which was making his overall mental and emotional wellbeing impossible to manage.
“Currently, the only help I have managed to obtain is privately,” Jane said. “No parent should have to fund their child’s mental health treatment.”
She said after months of ‘trauma, stress, worry, constant emails, and me undertaking a private psychiatrist assessment’ she had now been told he would be given a mental health assessment in August.
‘However it was clearly stipulated that there are no guarantees of further support or interventions as all NHS Services in place are stretched to over capacity and at crisis point, with waiting lists exceeding two years.”
Jane said that left her with no option but to look for private support, to find out if her son is on the autism spectrum or has ADHD, at a cost of £2,500, along with trying to obtain a private psychiatrist to help him with his depression, anxiety, PTSD, and undiagnosed neuro Development problems.
“This is only the beginning, and without this my son would have no hope of getting better, if we had to rely on the services we should be turning to, or even worse make a third attempt on his life.
“No loving parent can live with not providing for their children when they are in crisis, therefore I have no choice.”
Jane says thousands of adults and young people are at risk of taking their own lives because their mental health needs are not being met.
“Our nation is at crisis level, and as a single mother, I feel I have a duty of care and responsibility to my son and other families suffering hugely, due to lack of funding and professional help and support, to raise your awareness as to how dire and extreme this is.”
We asked the authorities handling Alfie’s case to respond to the points raised in this report.
A joint statement was issued by Sussex NHS Commissioners, Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and West Sussex County Council.
They said: “We know there are many children and young people who are currently struggling with their mental health and emotional wellbeing, and that the need for services across Sussex has increased as a result of the pandemic. We understand that is concerning for both parents and carers and young people.
“Local authorities, NHS services and other partners across a range of services are working together to support children and young people with their emotional health and wellbeing, including investing more than £6m this year to improve and expand specialist mental health services and focus on increasing capacity in early intervention and prevention as well as additional support directly into schools.”
Further support, information and links to resources are available on West Sussex County Council and the Sussex CAMHS websites. This includes information about general health and wellbeing as well as who to contact in times of crisis.
New resources to support parents, professionals and young people with their mental health and wellbeing are available. The toolkits, created by partners across Sussex Health and Care Partnership give top tips on how to look after your mental wellbeing and links to helpful resources and tools and have been sent to every Sussex school to share with their families.
Horsham MP Jeremy Quin said: “I can’t comment on the details of specific cases but I am very aware of the situation of this young man and am in contact with both the family and the authorities on his behalf.
“No one doubts that the huge increase in support which is currently being devoted to mental health services - and CAMHS in particular - is absolutely vital. This includes an increase of over £6m this year to Sussex CAMHS. This is designed to increase the number of clinicians available to help ‘Alfie’ and many like him. Unfortunately it takes years to train the specialists required to help but the constant push for ‘equality of esteem’ across the health services between clinicians practising in mental health and other fields, and the additional investment in mental health, is having the desired effect on attracting more medics into the field and producing the top professionals we need. I am in regular contact with our local CAMHS and their efforts to recruit more dedicated support to meet what is a sadly growing demand for their help.”