“Young people in mental health crisis are simply sent away”

My son was diagnosed with autism at age nine, struggled in school and with family issues, and at age 13 he began to isolate himself and go into periods of depression.

But that was nothing compared to what he was like when he turned 16. A relationship breakdown caused him to become suicidal. He stopped wanting to interact with anyone, to the point that he would react badly if I asked him about his day.

His school knew he was very depressed and advised him to phone the GP. It was the first kick in the teeth for him. The GP indeed said ‘here are some leaflets and helplines’. He felt even more alone since he had asked for help and had essentially been turned away.

At some point, he disappeared. I then realized that he had started expressing suicidal thoughts, and when he disappeared he had left some very disturbing messages for a few people about how he was planning to slit his own throat.

On the day of his disappearance, I received a message saying that he had not come to school. He didn’t answer the phone to me or anyone else. He had left with his girlfriend and neither would say where they were. I was so worried because he took a knife from our kitchen.

I spent the morning looking for him all over town. After two hours the police found him hiding behind the fence of our local cricket ground. It was in bad shape and the police kindly drove us both to A&E.

He had an assessment with someone from the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (Camhs) team. However, the A&E doctor clarified that there was nothing more the hospital could do for my son that day and that we had to go home. He had had a Camhs assessment and that service would be in touch.

They wouldn’t tell me what made him so distressed, because he had asked them not to. This meant that I didn’t really have any advice on how to keep my child safe at home. They said I should lock up all the knives, because he had already taken a knife, and the very strong painkillers I take.

When we went to A&E I was hoping it would get in because I felt I couldn’t make it better and I was unprepared and inadequate. I felt very alone. I was beside myself and petrified at the thought of losing my child. I just wanted someone to take him away from me and take care of him and make him better.

I was very confused when the A&E doctor said we had to go home. I assumed they would keep my son, given his distress and vulnerability. I just thought: what state do you have to be in to be kept? I was in complete shock.

I still have no idea what condition you need to be in to actually be admitted as my son was in a very bad condition and admission was not even discussed. It wasn’t a “shall we, shall we not” thing, it was just “go home”.

I think young people who have a mental health crisis just get fired. I have spoken to other parents and the story is the same. Young people may have eating disorders, they may have clear suicide plans and Camhs will say they are not serious enough to be hospitalized. It leaves me with no confidence that a young person who comes to a doctor’s office or A&E will get the help they need.

The Camhs ended up being really good for my son. They did everything they were supposed to do. But it all happened too late. He is doing very well now. He has a girlfriend and is more aware of his sanity. I just hope we never have to go through a crisis like this again.

  • In the UK and Ireland, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or by email at jo@samaritans.org or jo@samaritans.ie. In the United States, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the Lifeline crisis helpline is 13 11 14. Other international helplines can be found on befriend.

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