Panorama feature West Sussex family’s mental health struggle

One of Jess's drawings
One of Jess's drawings

Charlotte Harding meets a Southwater mum who is hoping to help other families avoid the traumatic experience she went through.

Secondary school can be tough for many teenagers. They are entering a world preparing them for being an adult and where friendships are forged or broken at the drop of a hat.

For Claire Sparrow’s daughter Jess it led to her ‘crash point’ which saw her try to take her own life and admitted to hospital.

Now diagnosed with Asperger syndrome at the time Jess was just seen as someone with a high IQ and hypersensitivity.

“The way in which she saw the world was very complex,” explains Claire.

“And she struggled, as she thought everyone else saw the world in the same way.

“She felt like she was the problem and had a conflict in her own mind.”

In the space of eight weeks these feelings led to Jess becoming depressed - crying and being upset - this progressed on to self-harm.

“She then became really detached and just stopped crying, I felt like I had lost my daughter,” says Claire.

“It ended with her trying to take her own life.”

For years Claire explains that she knew something was different with Jess since primary school but felt ‘no one would listen’.

“Aspergers is very complex,” she adds.

“The characteristics differ between boys and girls. Someone did say years ago about her having Aspergers but when I saw the traits she didn’t tick all the boxes.

“When I finally did see the ones relating to girls, it all made sense. It was a relief when she was diagnosed as she knew she wasn’t being a drama queen or causing a scene that there was a reason behind it. And this has led her to forgive herself for how she is and manage it.

“I really think early detection is key. I just think if Jess had been diagnosed sooner we wouldn’t have gone through the heartache of the last few years.”

Claire and her partner Paul set up the HOPE Charity Project website in August 2017 with the community space and sanctuary due to open in Southwater in October.

“We want to build a community,” reveals Claire.

“We have virtual sessions and online chat rooms and coffee mornings. Or people can come for a tea and chat with professional therapy and counselling also on offer.

“It can be hard for teenagers to trust people, so the online sessions help them to build up their confidence as some don’t even want to leave their home.

“We want people to know they aren’t alone and to come to us while on that nine month waiting list. If you need help now come to us.”

HOPE Charity Project works with those aged 10 to 18 mainly in the local Sussex area but Claire says they won’t turn anyone away.

The service offers a holistic approach for those that have OCD, ADHD, people who have been severely bullied and had their confidence and self esteem knocked, those with anxiety and depression.

The HOPE stands for the motto that was at the hospital Jess stayed at - Hold On Pain Ends.

“I want people to know they aren’t alone there is someone who can say ‘yes I know how that feels. I’ve been there and it will end’,” says Claire. “We also want to collaborate and support the NHS and CAMHS it is understaffed and struggling to cope with demand.

“We are one team and want to support one another.”

The community space is on land owned by Claire’s brother in law and means they can provide animal therapy and a once old shipping container, now converted into modern therapy rooms provides a space for workshops and meetings. Thanks to building materials donated by local businesses.“If people want to donate their time, then we have art, drama and photography sessions that if people want to volunteer their time to help would be great,” enthuses Claire.

“Or anyone that likes gardening we have an acre of land we are tending to. We have donations from local garden centres.”

Since leaving hospital Claire says that Jess’s transformation has been amazing.

“The clinical setting is not what young people need,” she adds.

“They need care and inspiration which is what we offer.”

Providing somewhere for people to turn has been a comfort for Claire and her family to be able to meet other people and for Jess to see she isn’t the only one.

“What our family went through was a really tragic crisis,” Claire says.

“It was traumatic and a horrific experience so if we can help just one family that would be amazing.”

HOPE Charity Project is a non-profit organisation, every penny goes towards providing these families with what they need, for more information visit www.hopecharityproject.org

For Facebook, visit www.facebook.com/HOPEcharityproject

‘Panorama: Kids In Crisis’, Monday 24 September, 8.30pm, BBC1

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