Northern Ireland

Drug abuse: Call for children's secure mental health unit

Arron Fox Image copyright Sarah Fox
Image caption Aaron Fox, from north Belfast, died aged 16

The mother of a teenager who took his own life following a battle with drugs has called for a secure children's mental health unit for Northern Ireland.

Sarah Fox's son Aaron, died aged 16.

Ms Fox said it was "horrendous" watching her son "self destruct" and said she believes a secure unit could have saved his life.

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Media captionCall for children's secure mental health unit

She said she felt powerless and was told Aaron had to want to quit drugs to get all the help he needed.

"There was nothing we could do, it had to be down to Aaron," she said.

"How can a 15-year-old boy know he needs help?

"We're his legal guardians - we should have been the ones making the decisions, not him.

"These kids need to be on their knees before anyone will listen.

Support

"It keeps us awake and puts knots in your stomach. I just wish we could just go back to that day."

In a statement to the BBC, the Department of Health said there were currently no secure treatment units available for under 18s.

They said care for children with addiction problems is provided in line with NICE guidelines, which indicate self help as the first line of treatment and then formal cognitive behavioural therapy with family support.

They said there was not enough demand for a secure unit and the priority for the future would be strengthening existing provision in early intervention and intensive community based support, rather than on a specialist secure unit.

The health minister, Michelle O'Neill said she is trying to improve the response for those who are in crisis.

Image caption SDLP MLA Nichola Mallon wants more help for child addicts

SDLP MLA Nicola Mallon said she is dealing with cases similar to Aaron's in her own constituency, and said there is not enough support available.

She said when a child's mental health has deteriorated due to drug use there is no safe and secure space available to them.

"For children who really, really are in a bad place, they need somewhere they can go", she told BBC News NI.

"It's not about locking a child up - it's about trying to put the child somewhere safe so that they can get all the help they need."

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