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Troubled Northern Ireland teenager welcomes children's watchdog probe of 'flawed' mental health services

 

By Claire McNeilly

A troubled teenage girl has said that Northern Ireland's "dysfunctional" mental health facilities are failing a generation of young people.

The 16-year-old's comments come as Northern Ireland's Children's Commissioner launched an independent review of services and support for children and young people amid concerns they are inadequate.

Natasha Murphy - who admitted that she bites herself until she bleeds - told the Belfast Telegraph that she wanted to share her personal experience in order to help others in similar situations.

In an exclusive interview, the Co Antrim teenager, who is autistic and suffers from diabetes, said she had been self-harming and suffering panic attacks since her father died three years ago.

She also has had suicidal thoughts, and although finally receiving professional help after waiting for over a year, she's not sure it's helping.

"The idea of a support system is there - but I don't think it's the right type of support for me," she said.

"I actually feel worse after visiting a specialist, not better."

It's estimated that more than one in five young people in Northern Ireland experiences a significant mental health problem by the time they are 18, and rates of poor mental health are likely to be pointedly higher for those who have been in care or those with long-term illness or disability.

Rates of suicide in under 18s are also disproportionately higher across the province compared to other parts of the UK, while the number of under 19s presenting to A&E for self-harm has been increasing.

Since 2012 there has been a year-on-year increase of prescribed antidepressants or anti-anxiety drugs for under 16s such as Natasha, who welcomed a review which, she feels, is long overdue. Children's Commissioner Koulla Yiasouma said she was concerned that the current provision was not fit for purpose.

"Despite the lack of official data, it is clear the mental health needs of children and young people are increasing, both in terms of scale and complexity and this has led to greater pressure on services," she said.

"This lack of available data on mental health need and insufficient monitoring and evaluation of mental health services is one of the key challenges facing our mental health system.

"For example, we don't know the scale of poor mental health in under 18s because that type of data is not collected."

The Commissioner said that only 7.8% of Northern Ireland's mental health budget is actually allocated to the child and adolescent mental health system, which is below the 10% UK average.

That is despite the fact rates of poor mental health are 25% higher here than in England.

One of the main thrusts of the review centres on hearing from children and young people about their experiences of accessing or trying to access services.

"I urge children and young people aged 11 to 21 along with their parents and carers who have had, or have tried to get help for their mental health, to visit our online survey (NICCY.org/SpeakYourMind) so their experiences are captured and can help shape the future of mental health services," said Ms Yiasouma.

"This review offers an unprecedented opportunity for them to share their experience of getting or trying to get help for their mental health."

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