1492760661302 - Parents struggle to access help for mentally ill children

Parents struggle to access help for mentally ill children

A Christchurch father has clear advice to parents trying to navigate the mental health system with their children – “Don’t give up, you’re going to have to be your child’s advocate.” 

In a report published on Wednesday, the People’s Review of the Mental Health System, 20 per cent of the 500 stories submitted were about children or young people. 

The stories echoed the themes found in other submissions including frustration with access to services and fear as parents watched their child’s health deteriorate. 

“The biggest frustration was the length of time it takes to get seen. Then you’re in the system for a few weeks and the end goal seems to be to get your child on medication. Once they’ve done that it’s just see you later,” the man, who wished to only be known as John, said.

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John’s 10-year-old son Jackson was in pre-school when it was picked he was having problems.

“He wouldn’t listen, couldn’t sit still. The learning side of things was OK but the social side of things was a problem.”

After two years Jackson was diagnosed with ADHD, tourette’s and oppositional defiance disorder.

John and his wife found once they were in the system they got the help they needed.

“They were great once you were in front of them, there was never an issue with the care. But if you needed to re-engage with them later on it could be a battle to get appointments.”

John said the communication was “horrendous” and the family often felt they were not getting anywhere.

In one instance it took Jackson’s case manager weeks to get back to the family.

There was also a lack of understanding about Jackson’s disorders at his schools.

“It’s not just the public health system, there is a need for schools to be supported so teaching staff have a better understanding.” 

One of the recommendations made in the People’s Review of the Mental Health System was a national education programme to support all New Zealanders to understand what mental health is. Review spokesman Mike King said an education programme was needed for young people, in particular.

“We need to normalise having problems so kids feel they can ask for help,” he said.

Suicide is a real concern for John as Jackson becomes more of aware of the differences between other children at school.

“We really fear him becoming suicidal in his teenaged years so we’re starting to make sure he knows it’s OK to talk,” John said.

Figures released to the Labour Party by the Health and Quality Safety Commission show more than 500 people died in suspected suicides while in mental health care over the past four years.

John believes they have been lucky because they’ve been able to pay for private specialists who have helped address some of Jackson’s more challenging behaviours.

“I know there are a lot of families who can’t do what we’ve been able to do and I know they will be struggling,” he said. 

Names have been changed to protect the identity of the family interviewed for this story.