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Vanessa Carlton

A Thousand Miles

Mental Health Doesn't Start At Age 12: A Family's Battle Exposes Flaws In Ireland's Mental Health Facilities For Children

Lee Van Stadenb

The family's ordeal began with a prolonged two-year wait to be accepted into CAMHS, a delay that included a serious hospitalisation.

"Why is there only one facility in Ireland to cater to mental health difficulties for children under 12 years of age?"

That's the question being asked by the Portarlington-based mother of an 11-year-old girl who has attempted suicide.

Lee Van Staden, whose daughter struggles with mental health difficulties, said the system is broken for children under 12 years of age suffering with their mental health.  

Lee has brought to light the critical shortcomings in Ireland's Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) after enduring a two-year wait for acceptance into a programme, marked by a serious hospital stay and ongoing challenges in receiving adequate care.

The family's ordeal began with a prolonged two-year wait to be accepted into CAMHS, a delay that included a serious hospitalisation.

"It has been a very difficult road," explained Lee, who recounted frequent visits to Portlaoise Paediatrics every two months. Despite being referred to the hospital by CAMHS, the situation took a turn on May 10th, the night of the northern lights.

"We woke the kids up to see the northern lights, but Ashley wouldn't wake up," she recalled. The next morning, her 11-year-old daughter was stumbling and slurring her speech. She had taken some of Lee's medication and was subsequently brought to hospital. Medical tests were conducted, and the mother found a text message that read: "Mum, if you find this, I'm no longer here. I love you."

This incident was not isolated. Just six days later, Ashley attempted the same act again.

The family faced another emergency trip to the hospital the following Friday morning, refusing to take Ashley home. They demanded more than outpatient care, and the hospital agreed to keep her, with the head of CAMHS scheduled to visit on Monday.

Ireland's sole facility that admits children under 12, Linn Darra in Cherry Orchard, Dublin, was contacted.

The family was reassured that a bed would be available, and by Tuesday, a spot had opened up.

Despite the dedicated work of nurses and doctors, systemic issues persist, particularly since comprehensive support only begins at age 12.

"Every single staff member we've encountered has been supportive. It's not the staff that need to change; it's the system. Mental health doesn't just start at age 12," Lee said.

"Why is there only one facility? What if we lived in Kerry or Donegal?"

She said her family's story underscores the urgent need for systemic change in CAMHS to ensure that children under 12 receive timely and adequate mental health support, regardless of their location in Ireland.


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