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'I really hope we don't run out of time': Desperate parents share stories of children's suicide attempts

They said they are fighting to keep their children alive while they wait months for services.
He cried for hours and did not want to live.
Every night is endless. ‘Just keep him alive’, you keep telling yourself.
You can never stop watching them or ever relax.
I really hope we do not run out of time. I am so scared.

THE DESPERATE WORDS of parents living with suicidal children were heard in the Seanad chamber today as they begged the State to see them, hear them and help them to save their children’s lives.

Five mothers took it in turn to stand up and tell stories of the suffering of their children due to long waiting lists and gaps in resources, and of the trauma their families have suffered as a consequence.

One of these mothers was Louise Walsh, whose eldest son, at 17, attempted suicide after the death of his father. / YouTube

She said she had been told there was a 10-12 week waiting list for her son to access Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (Camhs).  She took him on four different occasions to the Emergency Department.

Walsh described the last time she took him as a night when “everything fell apart for him”.

He had the equipment ready to hang himself and she said he begged her to let him die.

She called gardaí and when they arrived a half an hour later, she was physically restraining him on the couch.

“He had broken up the bathroom, he put his head through his bedroom wall. He was trying everything to get the pain out of his head,” she said.

The teen was taken by ambulance into hospital on a Saturday morning and he was moved to the adult acute psychiatric ward where he was told by staff he could not leave the room because he was “in danger of other patients”.

‘He might not make it’

When a psychologist eventually came to see the 17-year-old after 7pm that Monday evening, Walsh was told he would have to be sent to either Cork or Galway for an adolescent care placement. The family lives in Waterford and she has two younger sons to care for.

“I took my son home that night, knowing full well he might not make it,” said.

“I sat in his room night after night after night, I took him off all the medication and minded him with family.”

Her son also attended a private counsellor.

“He says to me he will never, ever, ever get over being in that ward. It did more damage than anything ever done to him in his life.”

Now he’s out of it, everything’s okay. He knows I had nowhere else to go.

Louise told senators: “Any one of you could lose your partner, your life like that could change. We are any of you. We are all of you. And we’re just a normal family and we looked for help.”

‘They need help’

Sinead McGee also spoke of a night she spent with her daughter, who was 17 at the time, in the Emergency Department.

She had taken an overdose and in hospital was given an antidote. The teenage girl was left on a plastic chair for 24 hours, “vomiting severely into a bag” for the first three.

“At one stage they gave me a plastic chair and then took it away and I had to stand beside her. They are not well people and they need help and support, not to be put into more of a stressful environment,” she said.

McGee is chair of a carers’ forum in Dublin city and she brought with her some letters from other parents who wanted senators to hear their stories. She choked back tears as she read them aloud.

One woman wrote about her 16-year-old son, who she took to the Emergency Department. Doctors told the family to take him home and ensure there was no medication left out, no knives he could access and nothing he could hang himself with.

“We safe-proof our home and then we wait. The vigil starts,” she wrote.

She said her family is “trying to help him stay alive” until they can get him “the help he so desperately needs”.

Every night is endless. ‘Just keep him alive’, you keep telling yourself.

Another parent wrote about their 15-year-old son who came to them with a knife held to himself.

“He cried for hours and did not want to live due to bullying,” they wrote.

They rang Camhs and a week later got a letter informing them there would be a three-month wait for their first appointment.

‘I am so scared’

Another woman contacted the service seeking help breaking the news of her husband’s terminal illness to her two children, who have Autism Spectrum Disorders, Attention Deficit Disorder and dyspraxia.

“My husband passed away in April, they sent me an appointment for 4 July,” she said.

McGee also read from a letter about a 13-year-old girl whose parents were informed she was on a ‘priority waiting list’.

“I felt so good and so hopeful,” the parent wrote.

When they called to find out what being on a priority list meant, they were told it would be months before they would be provided with services.

In the last 12 months, her daughter’s mental health has deteriorated. She recently found letters in which her daughter wrote:

“I want to say goodbye, it’s never going to change.”

“I don’t want to do his anymore.”

“I feel invisible.”

“Imagine if your child had thoughts like that every single day. Now picture that waiting list and the possibility of sitting there for months,” the letter said.

I don’t know if I can get though this. I don’t know if my daughter can. We are on a priority waiting list, I really hope we don’t run out of time here. I am so scared.

As she concluded her address to senators, McGee told them of two other children she had been made aware of recently. One of them is four years old, the other is five, and they are both having suicidal thoughts.

“They don’t come into any criteria for Camhs because they are too young. It’s just so, so sad.”

“Our young people matter. They are our future,” she told them.

The five women who spoke in the Seanad chamber highlighted a number of deficiencies  - particularly the lack of access to services for children and adolescents at night time and on weekends.

“People are shouting and screaming and no one is listening,” Lauren Keogh, who sought help for her 13-year-old daughter, told Senators.

They were also critical of the lack of supports for parents and other children in families who have a suicidal young person living with them.

Their testimonies and recommendations will form part of a report the Seanad is compiling for improvements to mental health services for young people.

If you need to talk, contact:

  • Samaritans 116 123 or email
  • Aware 1800 80 48 48 (depression, anxiety)
  • Pieta House 1800 247247 or email – (suicide, self-harm)
  • Teen-Line Ireland 1800 833 634 (for ages 13 to 19)
  • Childline 1800 66 66 66 (for under 18s)

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