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'There's just no help': SA mother speaks out about gaps in the mental health system

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The mother of a 15-year-old girl recently diagnosed with borderline personality disorder who has attempted suicide three times in a month has spoken out about her family’s ordeal, to raise awareness about gaps in mental health services for children.

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The southern surburbs’ mother, who InDaily has chosen not to identify to protect her daughter, has detailed a harrowing account of her struggles with the system to try to keep her daughter safe and get her help.

Her daughter was admitted to the Boylan Ward of the Women’s and Children’s Hospital (WCH)– the only designated psychiatric inpatient facility for children and adolescents in South Australia – last month after attempting suicide.

She has been in and out of the hospital since, now diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and struggling with her mental health.

“There’s just no help,” her mother told InDaily.

“I feel there’s no one listening.

“I just want something put out there so that people know they’re not alone. We all need to push for extra funding to get these younger ones the help they need.”

The mother-of-six has contacted various politicians and departments for help.

She said her daughter physically attacked staff during one of her stays at the WCH.

“They were telling me she’s mentally stable when I knew she wasn’t,” she said.

They rang and told me in the morning ‘she’s mentally stable, come in’… then she stabbed two nurses with a pair of scissors.

“I refused to discharge her because I knew she wasn’t mentally stable to come home.

“I was on the phone to her and she was saying, ‘I’m going to stab someone, I’m going to kill someone’.

“I don’t want to bring her home to my other kids while she’s in that manic state.”

On another occasion, the mother said staff had told her to collect her daughter because she was well enough to come home but shortly after she says she received a phone call saying her daughter had escaped the hospital and was found in the city.

“The way they were telling me she’s mentally stable but she has gone and done another suicide attempt,” she said.

“If it wasn’t for the two construction workers that pinned her and called police I could have been burying my daughter.

“I want it heard. I feel that there’s other parents out there going through the same situation and nobody is game enough to speak out.”

The mother said her daughter’s problems started in February this year when she began having 10-12 pseudoseizures a day.

Pseudoseizures occur as a result of psychological causes such as severe mental stress.

The mother said her daughter had experienced some trauma in her childhood.

“She had to stop going to mainstream school,” she said.

“She was in and out of hospital. She would have these seizures and get very aggressive.

“She’s lived a normal life for 14 years and this all started in February from nowhere.

“She’s struggling.

“I was ready to give up but I thought ‘no, my daughter needs help. I’m going to fight for her, I’m going to get it’.

“I want her to finish school, I want her to get a career. I don’t want her not going anywhere in life because no one wants to help.”

The mother said the situation had taken a huge toll on her family.

I have had to put bars on her windows so that she can’t escape. It’s like she’s in prison.

The mother said she went to the Borderline Personality Disorder Collaborative (BPD Co) – a statewide support service which opened in July last year – for help but was initially turned away, told they do not have therapy groups for children under 16.

She contacted the Women’s and Children’s Hospital consumer advisory board which she said “pulled some strings” and have managed to get her into the BPD Co.

“Now all of a sudden they have got my daughter into a therapy group which they couldn’t do before,” she said.

Her daughter has her first session next week.

“The group that she is going into is the 16-18-year-olds,” the mother said.

“They (staff at the BPD Co) too are pushing to get funding for younger people. They want it to help kids from 14 years of age.”

She said a social worker at BPD Co clinic had told her: “We want to help more kids but we just don’t have the funding.”

InDaily contacted the BPD Co for comment but they referred inquiries to SA Health.

Judy Burke, co-founder of BPD carer support group Sanctuary, said: “I’ve heard some pretty awful stories but that is among the worst.”

She described the girl’s experience at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital as “absolutely horrendous and disgusting”.

“She needs to be seen by a clinician at BPD Co,” Burke said.

“I can’t believe that after everything, this is still happening.”

Burke said that authorities “seem to have learnt nothing” following the tragic deaths of two young South Australian women who took their lives after suffering from severe BPD.

The deaths of Miranda Howard, 22, in 2013 and Aurora McPherson-Smith, 18, in 2015 were the subject of a coronial inquiry, which found they could still be alive if they had not been failed by the state’s health system.

“Overall I find that neither Miranda Howard nor Aurora McPherson-Smith received enough specialised care,” Deputy State Coroner Jayne Basheer found in 2018.

Burke said: “We need more training for clinicians out in the community but we also need these experts to take on these complex cases especially the young ones to prevent them from getting seriously ill.

“It is possible to recover from BPD but the longer you leave it the harder it is.”

Opposition health spokesman Chris Picton said: “It is exceptionally brave of this mum to speak up on behalf of her daughter and young people being let down by our mental health system.

“It is unfathomable that in a first world society, families are not getting the help that they need at such critical times.

“How is it that our system is so stretched that a 15-year-old is being discharged shortly after assaulting a nurse? It’s not acceptable for the daughter, not acceptable for the family, not acceptable for the health staff.”

SA Health said for privacy reasons it can’t disclose details of individual cases, but said BPD Co provides services for young people aged 12 and over.

However, the mother provided InDaily with an email she was sent by a BPD Co staffer after her initial inquiries which read: “I asked around to see if I could find out anything about other options for your daughter so it’s taken some time to get responses…

“As mentioned in our phone call, most services are for 16 or 18 and above so this may be something your daughter can work towards.”

In a statement, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) clinical director Dr Mohammed Usman said: “CAMHS is committed to providing the best care for our patients. We understand that young people experiencing a mental health crisis is a distressing experience for the child, their family and carers.

“Our multidisciplinary team of CAMHS clinicians work collaboratively to ensure decisions about treatment supports the young person’s needs.

“In all cases, clinicians determine, in consultation with the young person and their family, the best treatment for patients with BPD, or emerging BPD, based on clinical assessment.

“Our clinicians are available to provide consultation appointments to patients experiencing BPD.”

If you or someone you know needs help, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467, or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.

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