Open Letter to Minister Michelle O’Neill on NI’s poor treatment of mental health…

Megan Haste suffers from anxiety and depression. She shares her own experience of issues a sincere challenge to the new Health Minister to take mental health out of the third division status it currently enjoys in Northern Ireland

I am a daughter, a sister, an auntie, and a friend. I am 19 years old, and for 6 years I have been living with mental illness. This year, just before my birthday, I started seeing a cognitive behavioural therapist.

She is the first therapist that I’ve clicked with, and my mental health has finally started to improve significantly.

For 6 years, I have been unable to take advantage of support offered by charities due to the fact that travelling to Belfast from Moira in a crisis is impractical at best, impossible at worst.

Trains trigger a feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach, strangers make my head spin, and if you stand me in front of a room full of people to speak, my voice will shake just as much as my hands.

There are days when I can’t find the energy or motivation to leave my bedroom, and sometimes I deactivate my social media accounts because the idea of interaction with anyone makes me feel nauseous.

This is the life I live. I am living with anxiety and depression.

I am a survivor of suicide attempts, and my left arm and thighs are home to permanent reminders of my time as a self-harmer. I was a patient in Northern Ireland’s only child and adolescent psychiatric inpatient unit for a grand total of 27 days at the age of 16. I have been a victim of relentless bullying in school due to my self harm.

Yet my most impressive feat is probably surviving CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services).

A week before my 17th birthday I was told by a “professional” that I really ought to be “growing out” of self-harm; and despite the fact that Christmas is evidently the worst time of year for my personal mental health, it was around that time that my therapist decided to see me only once every three months despite my illness showing little to no improvement.

After three of my then quarterly appointments, I discharged myself from CAMHS due to the fact that it was a waste of my time and NHS funding.

Today I am standing up and speaking out. I am sick of seeing people burying their heads in the sand over youth mental health. There are hundreds of young people out there with stories just like mine, and hundreds more with stories worse than mine. The services available to us are simply under-resourced and therapists are all too often ill-suited to their jobs.

Every time a young person’s suicide is publicised, politicians stand up and remark on how sad it is. They then promptly return to arguing amongst themselves about comparatively petty issues.

In fact, last year I watched politicians’ reactions to a suicide, and those on the same side of the political divide of the young person spoke out in sympathy for the family. Those on the opposite side of the divide stayed silent.

Mental health is not a green and orange issue. It is a serious topic and should not be put on the back burner in favour of sectarian mud slinging. Mental health is everybody’s business. We all know someone who has experienced depression, anxiety, etc., and a lot of us have experienced it personally, so it’s about time we all started to give it the attention it deserves.

Following the recent election and appointment of ministerial roles, I have a challenge for our new Minister of Health. Work with young adults to shape a service that is better than barely adequate.

You may be surprised by some of our suggestions, but they come from experience. We know what does and doesn’t work, whereas for the time being, decisions seem to be being made on speculation alone, not to mention an apparently wilfull ignorance of evidence.

Hear us out. Work with us. I, and many like me, simply want to ensure that no child has to endure the same hell that we have. What do you say, Michelle O’Neill?

There are plenty of us running around trying to move mountains, and you’ve probably never heard of us. Isn’t it time we started working together?

You can follow Megan’s other writing at her own website at meganhaste.co.uk.

This is a guest slot to give a platform for new writers either as a one off, or a prelude to becoming part of the regular Slugger team.

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