Trigger warning: this blog refers to suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts and self harm.
Child and adolescent mental health services need to create a lost property department. And in this department, you’ll find young people’s youth, dreams, aspirations, peace of mind, and even some lives.
I had my first experience of psychosis at age 14 after years of abuse and neglect in the family home. Every Sunday the radio would play the UK top 40. I listened to it and taped the songs I liked. All of a sudden the music went quiet and a troll-like voice issued from the radio: “What do you want, Dolly? How much do you want?” My skin prickled. I shut off the radio in fear. Deep demonic laughter followed.
“Can’t get rid of me. I’m yours for life now.”
“Who are you?”
“I am the universe. I choose whether you live or breathe.”
I got up and ran out of the room. I stopped listening to the radio from then on.
Stress increased the hallucinations and delusions. I had voices telling me to step into oncoming traffic. I thought I was rotting and the cause of all the pain in the world.
Because of these frightening experiences, I stopped going to school. Social services got involved; they arranged for me to see a child psychiatrist. I wanted to talk to someone about what I was feeling and the experiences I had. I was quickly dissuaded of that the second I stepped into the psychiatrist’s office. The psychiatrist coldly told me to sit, and without making eye contact, said, “So what’s wrong with you?”
She had a checklist of questions and I felt myself shrink smaller and smaller with every question. I seemed an annoyance to her, that I was wasting her time. She asked me really personal questions, such as ones about abuse, with such coldness in her voice, it made me want to kill myself there and then. So she became another person to add to the list of people who didn’t care, who couldn’t protect me, and another reason not to trust. Just in case I couldn’t get that, she ended the session by saying, “I should pull up my socks and to stop being silly.” Hard to even entertain that notion when I thought demons were chasing me.
The psychiatrist coldly told me to sit, and without making eye contact, said, “So what’s wrong with you?” She had a checklist of questions and I felt myself shrink smaller and smaller with every question.
Looking back, I have some anger over that encounter, and wonder how my life might have been different, if I had met a warm, kind, supportive professional. Maybe my life would have played out the same, but I know I would have experienced a little less pain. My psychosis did not go away; medication merely turned me into a zombie. It made the nightmare foggy but I still could see it and feel it. I still tried to take my own life, still self-harmed and was generally self-destructive. I was left alone in my living hell full of demons, but with no one to talk to about it.
And so because of that uncaring professional and no mental health support, I became lost, and I lost my years. 15, 16, 17, 18, all lost – all the way to 30, where I found my own light.
I received psychological therapies in my 30s and am now actually living a life, such as undertaking a degree. Some of the screaming has stopped. I think this is because my voice had been finally heard and didn’t need to be turned into a scream which no one else could hear.
My voice had been finally heard and didn’t need to be turned into a scream which no one else could hear.
There are other people screaming, there are children and young people screaming, and nobody hears them. Sometimes they give up and choose to end their lives. I challenge anyone here to sit and watch a young person in mental distress and do nothing. And yet that is what we are doing, as a society.
If, like me, have been residing in psychotic hinterlands for a few decades, when you rejoin society, you realise are decades behind your peers. Your first love, job, career, home, relationships are new things in your 30s and 40s. People talk of ‘lost youth’ like a misplaced item. But mine was never there in the first place.
When you stumble with the mistakes in middle age that most people dispensed with in their teens, it’s humiliating and demeaning. It skins you alive when you have no skin to begin with. Your vulnerability feels like a coat of petrol in a world of fire. It adds shame to more shame. You are always playing catch up, and you will never ever be on an equal footing.
You are always playing catch up, and you will never ever be on an equal footing.
I don’t want children or young people to end up in the ground because nobody is listening to them. I hope that, as a society, we will listen to them.
Our research last year highlighted the average decade of delay that children face before they access mental health support. Learn more about this.