I can remember, vaguely, being 9 years old. It was 2002, Enrique, Shakira and Atomic Kitten were dominating the charts. I was in year 5 (I was a baby of the year) and I was already excited to get to high school in two years time (God knows why, as soon as I started I couldn’t wait to get to college…oh the vicious cycle of education)
More to the point, I was, luckily and as far as I can remember, a happy 9 year old. I had a few years to go before my mental health deteriorated. However, unfortunately for some, mental health has a way of affecting peoples lives before they are old enough to understand it, and before they even finish their childhood.
A situation was brought to my attention this week of a 9 year old boy. He wrote a letter to his local mental health services as he has struggled to get the help that he so desperately needs. It should not be coming to this. 9 year olds should not be taking their own health into their own hands and writing to the NHS.
His local mental health service happened to be the same as mine, he is from Norfolk. I know from personal experience that every single service (health, education, transport) in Norfolk is a few years behind everywhere else. It’s a backwards place is Norfolk, it’s only just developed a bloody dual carriage way and the majority of the population are still voting UKIP, but you get used to it. What is not okay to get used to is struggling with your mental health because the services that are available are, well, unavailable.
The poor child is in the two-year process of being diagnosed with autism, and he just missed the “threshold” for treatment for anxiety and depression. This angers me. The “threshold” simply means that he is not “bad enough” to qualify for treatment. Not bad enough? How bad does a 9 year old have to feel in order to need help? Why is his situation and poor health not being looked at and being dealt with now before he gets any worse? He may not meet the “threshold” (which probably means that his scores on a GAD and PHQ-9 questionnaire are not quite high enough….all quantitative study, no qualitative), but this poor child obviously felt ill enough to write a letter and express himself:
“Hello my name is Paul and this is a day in the life of me. When I wake up there’s this horrible feeling down inside me but I don’t know what it is. I normally say to myself you have to keep on going, I normally also say is it worth it.
I could just kill myself. I wouldn’t have to face today. I feel so tired because I have sleeping problems (I take melotonin). At school I use my chewy gum, ear defenders and wobble cushion to keep calm.
My friend gets bullied a lot so I have to stop them since they are my ‘friends’. At night going to sleep is horrible. I think it’s what death must feel like. I normally fall asleep, at about 10 o’clock”
I don’t know about you, but that letter broke my heart. It’s nothing that we should have to read from a 9 year old, and nothing that a 9 year old should ever feel the need to write.
The mother, like many, has had to resort to privatised care in order to get a diagnosis. The NHS is a brilliant idea, free healthcare should be available to everyone, that’s the idea right? However it’s not working when people are not receiving the care and having to go private anyway because their 9 year old child is talking about killing themselves.
There are too many stories where illness occurs, physical and mental, and people are forced to go private in order to gain the care which our taxes should be paying for with the NHS anyway. However, this is even worse when it is occurring to children to whom we should be giving the best start in life. This child is lucky he has a supportive mother, and lucky that his mother has the money in order to pay for private care – many don’t.
When is childhood mental health going to be taken seriously? When is deciding whether or not someone should gain treatment going to rely on something other than a couple of scores on a questionnaire? When is the government going to realise that the best step, and probably the most cost-effective in the long term, towards good mental health care is dealing with it at a young age, educating those of a young age, and helping those who suffer at a young age, in order to give them the tools they need to help them with their mental health.
I was one of the lucky ones. I recognised my own poor mental healthat 16, I was at college so received support there. I had a supportive family, friends, boyfriend. Despite this, it still took another 2 years to get diagnosed and get a treatment plan put in place, which I still continue 4 years later – but it works. However, unfortunately, that only occurred when I moved out of Norfolk and into Oxfordshire. Something I do not believe this little boy should have to do. He should be able to gain the treatment he needs, wherever he is, on the NHS, now.
Mental health care is generally poor across the country, and even worse when it comes to children, so this little boys case unfortunately highlights. I wish him and his family all the best, and I hope that the more people who talk about his situation, the more it will increase awareness of childhood mental health. Awareness and education is the way forward when it comes to mental health. Let’s continue to keep breaking the stigma.