Northern Ireland

Desperation as daughter struggles with mental health

The couple say ay they are at their wits end trying to keep their daughter safe
Image caption The couple say ay they are at their wits' end trying to keep their daughter safe

The parents of a 12-year-old girl who suffers from acute mental health problems, including anorexia, say they are distraught about her care.

The couple, from Northern Ireland, say the situation reached a crisis last week when their daughter threatened to take her own life.

Their story highlights the trauma faced by a family when a child experiences severe mental health issues.

The Southern Health Trust said it would not be commenting on the story.

Speaking to the BBC, the couple described life as fraught, saying they were at their wits' end trying to keep their daughter safe.

The mother has given up a full-time job to care for her daughter.

"Sometimes our little girl can only see a darkness and it's that darkness that she lives in," she said.

The family have asked for their identities to be protected.

Horrifying experience

The little girl has been battling anorexia since Christmas. Most recently, she says a voice is telling her not to eat and to end her life.

Her mum said that their daughter is slipping away from them.

"She is a very ill, little girl," she told the BBC.

"As recently as this morning she said she doesn't want to be here, she said her life isn't worth living anymore.

"She has a strong voice in her head that's telling her she just wants to die and just wants me to let her go."

The issue came to a head last week when the girl experienced a serious breakdown while staying at the Niamh Louise Foundation in Dungannon for respite care.

Her mother said it was a horrifying experience.

She told BBC News NI: "She has bruises on her body where she thrashed and thrashed she shouted: 'Mummy let me go, please mummy, I am begging you.'

"Her eyes rolled to the back of her head.

Image caption The parents told BBC News NI's Marie-Louise Connolly their daughter needs somewhere safe to get well

"We waited for the ambulance crew to come and when they did they said they had never seen anything like it in a child.

"I held her in my arms as if I was squeezing that voice out of her.

"'Go, Go!' I said. 'You aren't taking my girl.'

"She was like a wild animal, she was in so much pain."

The family have been working with a community mental health team in the Southern Health Trust, but say that is no longer sufficient.

The girl's father said there is a void in Northern Ireland's health and social care system to care for children as seriously ill as his daughter.

"We are currently in limbo land here because of this massive void that is between what is available from the various agencies and what there is when it is the final straw," he said.

"What we are asking for is for people to give us help, to give us advice, to give us the tools we need for our daughter to survive."

Lack of appropriate care

Their story highlights the lack of appropriate inpatient care in Northern Ireland for children and adolescents.

The Beechcroft unit in south Belfast is Northern Ireland's only inpatient facility to treat children with mental health problems.

Those involved in the girl's care do not believe Beechcroft is a suitable place for a child as young as 12.

The family say they were told that even if Beechcroft was suitable, there was currently a three-week waiting list.

The family insist their daughter needs somewhere safe to get well and home is not the place, as they have other children.

While they praise the care team, the couple also feel that their daughter's illness must be treated more seriously.

Image caption Catherine McBennett, of the Niamh Louise Foundation, said more facilities for children and young people suffering from mental health problems are needed

Frustrated by the system, this week they paid a private mental health consultant to independently assess their daughter.

That report confirms that she would benefit from in-patient care.

'More beds needed'

Debbie Howard, the founder of Fighting Eating Disorders NI - a local charity which help sufferers and their families - has called for additional beds and facilities to treat children as young as 12.

Catherine McBennett, of the Niamh Louise Foundation, said more facilities for children and young people suffering from mental health problems are needed in Northern Ireland.

"More beds are needed, when you consider that there are only 33 beds available for children and young people in Northern Ireland," she said.

"But there's also a massive gap within the services. Children and young people, like this young person, do not fit the criteria to have a bed at the moment, so where do they go?

"So what we need is a respite [service] that will be able to give the young person the medical and mental attention that they need."

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