My son doesn’t have a terminal illness or broken bones, and yet I am here fighting for his life. At eight years old he has suspected dyslexia, a suspected autism spectrum disorder and suspected generalised anxiety and depression, along with double vision.
Those suspected diagnoses mean that despite showing all the hallmarks of these disorders since the age of four, four years later we are no closer to either a diagnosis or a support system to create a plan for his future. There is so much red tape and such a dire lack of resources in children’s mental health.
Last week I received a phone call from my doctor’s surgery, relaying a message – your son’s referral has been rejected by CAMHS (Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services). This despite only the day before receiving a letter with a triage appointment for this week.
We have had multiple referrals and multiple rejections – this most recent one before they even spoke to my son. Instead I received a letter suggesting I, as a parent, “consult behavioural management resources to manage his challenging behaviour”. My son doesn’t have challenging behaviour – he isn’t violent or unkind, he isn’t a bully or disrespectful, in fact he is the opposite – and yet this is a thinly veiled suggestion that I simply need to control my child more effectively or be a better parent.
Data from the Education Policy Institute shows that one in every four children referred for mental health treatment is turned away by CAMHS.
I cannot convey how painful it is to watch your child experience psychological trauma and learning disorders and not be able to articulate what is happening to him, nor be taken seriously by those who should be safeguarding him.
The system is fundamentally failing an entire generation of children who will go on to battle equally inadequate services as adults without their parents to advocate for them. Mental health services are woefully underfunded and, according to the Local Government Association, only 6.7 per cent of the mental health budget is spent on children’s services. Despite a huge spike in cases of self-harming in children and suicide in young men, waiting times for children and young people to access mental health services can take up to 200 days.
In addition, government funding for the Early Intervention Grant and Public Health England, which both provide vital mental health services, has been cut by £500 million and £600 million respectively in the last five years.
I was told, by a mental health professional at Blackpool Victoria Hospital earlier this year, that lists of people waiting for help are so long that if they’re able to bump someone off the list for missing a phone call or appointment then they will. I have first hand experience of this – I tried to call a single point of access three times during an allocated appointment slot. Nobody picked up the phone. Then a week later I received a letter discharging me from the service for not making contact. How long does the government think people can wait for help before life becomes too much to handle?
Whilst billions of taxpayer money is being funnelled into contracts given away like candy to government associates with little to no experience, children and young adults are paying the price. When did human life and wellbeing become a commodity rooted in nepotism?
With the flames fanned by Covid-19 an entirely new cohort of people is now living in poverty. Poor economic areas like Blackpool, where I live, are facing down a mental health crisis they are not equiped to handle.
I call on the town’s MPs, Scott Benton and Paul Maynard, to take a stand for the people they are supposed to represent – give a voice to those who do not have one and make a commitment beyond lip service to achieving tangible changes in funding. Things have to change, or we will be left with a society of broken children.
But in the meantime I will have to explain to my son that he will no longer be speaking to a doctor, because they have made up their minds that he doesn’t need their help without even hearing his voice.