JUDY SILKOFF

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - EX­PE­RI­ENCE

Fri­day June 1, 2018 ranks as one of the most dif­fi­cult days in my life. A scant hour before Shab­bat was due to be­gin, I found my­self sit­ting in a cof­fee shop in Brent Cross, car­toon­ish tears drip­ping off the end of my nose into my Amer­i­cano. Gen­er­ally a prag­matic, op­ti­mistic sort of per­son, I just could not seem to pull my­self to­gether.

I had just ad­mit­ted my al­most 17-year-old daugh­ter into an ado­les­cent psy­chi­atric unit, fol­low­ing a two-week stay on a chil­dren’s ward in our lo­cal hos­pi­tal. The ex­pe­ri­ence had been hugely un­set­tling; from the am­bu­lance jour­ney that trans­ferred us from the Royal Free to the Pri­ory North Lon­don, sit­ting on a back­wards-fac­ing bench, un­able to see where we were go­ing, to the bag search on the ward where ‘con­tra­band’ such as a plas­tic con­tainer of rugelach, and the draw­string on her py­ja­mas, was con­fis­cated and locked away. It hadn’t oc­curred to me that for a des­per­ate teen, al­most any­thing is a po­ten­tial tool for self-harm.

Our story be­gan nearly three years pre­vi­ously, when we no­ticed that our daugh­ter was start­ing to ex­hibit repet­i­tive be­hav­iours that might in­di­cate OCD. A visit to our GP wasn’t es­pe­cially help­ful — we were told that as the be­hav­iours weren’t in­ter­fer­ing with nor­mal func­tion­ing, we didn’t re­ally need to worry. With the ben­e­fit of hind­sight, this was poor ad­vice — our daugh­ter was al­ready strug­gling to cope. It wasn’t long af­ter­wards that she be­gan to suf­fer from anx­i­ety at­tacks in school, so we em­barked her on a course of Cog­ni­tive Be­hav­iour T her­apy (CBT) with a pri­vate ther­a­pist. But there was lit­tle im­prove­ment and our daugh­ter’s dif­fi­cul­ties were wors­en­ing. To fend off her anx­i­ety at­tacks, she would scratch fe­ro­ciously at her skin, or sit trem­bling, un­able to re­spond to any­one who ap­proached.

At that point we asked for a re­fer­ral to CAMHS, the NHS’s chil­dren and men­tal health ser­vice. Three months later, our daugh­ter was re­fus­ing to see the pri­vate CBT ther­a­pist, but even though we were fi­nally called into CAMHS for an assess­ment around that time, she didn’t be­gin to start see­ing a reg­u­lar ther­a­pist un­til the six-month mark had passed.

Th­ese wait­ing times are typ­i­cal, ac­cord­ing to a re­port re­leased last week, com­mis­sioned by NHS Dig­i­tal. Nearly 50 per­cent of young peo­ple who re­ceived a re­fer­ral to CAMHS in 2017 waited longer than threat­en­ing to trans­fer her to a dif­fer­ent com­mu­nity unit (with a lower nightly fee) be­cause she was tak­ing “too long” to re­cover. Clearly this would have been a false econ­omy — it’s no mean feat for a trau­ma­tised teenager to open up to a ther­a­pist and learn to trust her care­givers— ask­ing her to start all over again in a new lo­ca­tion would be in­cred­i­bly coun­ter­pro­duc­tive.

For­tu­nately, with the help of or­gan­i­sa­tions such as NOA Girls and JAMI, who are al­ways at the ready with ad­vice and sup­port, we were able to ar­gue our case and keep her in the same unit through­out. But as wor­ried par­ents, we could have done with­out the added layer of stress and un­cer­tainty and I’m sure it set back our daugh­ter’s recovery too. And not ev­ery par­ent has the ed­u­ca­tion and abil­ity to be able do this — we were also lucky she is only twenty min­utes from home and not half­way across the coun­try.

Half a year since my very own “black Fri­day”, I’m sit­ting in a dif­fer­ent cof­fee shop, typ­ing th­ese words un­der very dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stances. My daugh­ter is at home as part of a four-day leave, healthy enough to be left un­su­per­vised, work­ing to­wards a BTEC in Health and So­cial Care; she plans to study nurs­ing when she leaves school.

Just a few days after this ar­ti­cle is pub­lished, we’ll hope­fully be at­tend­ing a meet­ing to dis­cuss the lo­gis­tics of her dis­charge from the Pri­ory. The fu­ture looks a lot brighter than it did, but there are still many chal­lenges ahead. Back in the care of the “com­mu­nity team”, will the ser­vices she ac­cesses en­sure that she builds on her cur­rent progress? And will her teach­ers have suf­fi­cient train­ing to be able to re­spond ap­pro­pri­ately to her, when she ex­pe­ri­ences emo­tional dif­fi­cul­ties at school, as she un­doubt­edly will? I don’t know the an­swers to th­ese ques­tions— I can only hope that the fact men­tal health is cur­rently such a ‘hot topic’ means that fund­ing and pro­vi­sion con­tin­u­ally im­proves, and that pi­lot projects such as the JLC’s plan to re­cruit well-be­ing prac­ti­tion­ers for Jewish schools, will bear fruit.

On World Men­tal Health day in Oc­to­ber, my daugh­ter posted the fol­low­ing on her In­sta­gram: “To any­one who suf­fers from a men­tal ill­ness, you are so very strong. Noth­ing is more ter­ri­fy­ing than fight­ing with your own head ev­ery sin­gle day.”

We owe it to th­ese brave but strug­gling young peo­ple to en­sure they have ac­cess to proper care and treat­ment. My daugh­ter and her peers have end­less worlds of un­tapped po­ten­tial within them – it will be at enor­mous cost to ev­ery sin­gle one of us if we al­low the sys­tem to fail them.

PHOTO:GETTY IM­AGES

Bat­tling with men­tal health can be ter­ri­fy­ing.

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