Portishead mum 'heartbroken' after hospital staff say they can't help suicidal son

Victoria Davies from ITV News West Country reports.

A mother from Portishead says she is 'heartbroken' and 'angry' after hospital staff said they were unable to help her suicidal son.

Victoria lives in fear that her 15-year-old son will try and end his life and says he told her he was having suicidal thoughts last week.

Victoria responded by calling for help - but said she was told by a doctor that hospital staff could not help her or her son.

She said: "When I called 111 to see whether I should take him to hospital, the doctor that called me back said that mental health does not merit hospital treatment."

Victoria believes that more resources and attention at children's hospitals should be made available for dealing with mental health crises.

She said: "He's saying it's too painful to be alive anymore and as a parent, that is worse than a broken arm or a broken leg.

Victoria said she feels angry about being turned away by hospital staff and would do "anything at all" to help her son.

"But, you know, a medical professional might say 'well, a broken arm can be fixed now' - why isn't that the case for mental health crises in young children?"

Victoria ended up bringing her son home from Bristol Children's Hospital but said she then spent the whole night awake to make sure her son did not hurt himself.

"When he's in a state like that, as any parent would, you just stay up all night with him, making sure that he's safe," she added.

But this wasn't the first time Victoria experienced difficulties in getting adequate treatment for her son.

If you’re going through a tough time, you don’t have to face it alone. Call Samaritans for free day or night on 116 123.

She said he first experienced suicidal thoughts when he was 11 and was subsequently diagnosed with depression. When the family moved to Portishead, he was referred to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS).

But three and a half years later, she says her son is still yet to receive Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT).

"The services that CAHMS are able to offer are just so inconsistent", Victoria said.

"We've had three different doctors over the last three and a half years, we've seen them inconsistently, we've not received the CBT that he needs.

"I know parents who've been told by the NHS that they can't intervene unless their child makes an attempt.

Victoria said that her son has still not received any CBT, three years after he was told it might help him.

She said witnessing her son needing help and being unable to provide it is devastating.

"To see him struggling and suffering and the pain that's in his eyes is just heartbreaking," she said.

Victoria added she would do "anything, anything at all" to see him happy again.

NHS statement

Responding to Victoria's story, a spokesperson for Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust said: "We aim to see young people with an urgent mental health issue within one week.

"For young people needing routine mental health assessments, we aim to see them within four weeks, and provide treatment within 18 weeks.

"During the pandemic, demand for services has increased, which has had an impact on waiting lists, however, we are doing everything within our power to provide care for the young people in our community within these timescales.

"During the pandemic, we have also set up a 24/7 crisis line for young people who need immediate support."

'A disgrace - you shouldn't have to wait until it's at crisis point'

Liam McKinnon is a member of Off the Record, a mental health social movement by and for young people, which is based in Bristol and South Gloucestershire. He said he shares the "anger and sorrow" the family has experienced.

"Unfortunately we do hear that [kind of experience] way too often and at OTR we hear from lots of parents and carers but also young people directly about what they're going through," Liam said.

He said the coronavirus pandemic has had a negative impact on many young peoples' mental health.

Liam McKinnon at OTR Bristol said the movement is seeing more and more young people struggling with their mental health.

Liam said: "The pandemic has definitely exacerbated that. We see lots of young people with low mood and anxieties, which is often a normal reaction to an abnormal world, but the pandemic has made things so much harder for lots of families."

He called Victoria and her son's experience a "disgrace".

"For any young person to have their voice unheard for that long is a really tough experience.

"The right support at the right time is the most important message that we can kind of share. You don't have to wait until it's a crisis."

His advice for parents like Victoria is to "know and understand how to look after your own mental health in a constructive and positive way," so this can be modelled for young people.

Liam also said "having those conversations about wellbeing when it's good and when it's tricky" is a "really important thing to know how to do."

Anyone who feels low or needs support for their mental health can find out more about OTR and their drop-in hubs on their website at: www.otrbristol.org.uk/

Urgent support can be found by contacting the Samaritans either on their website, or by calling 116 123