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Opinion: The mental health of our children should be the focus of Budget 2020, not Brexit

A bereaved mother says no child deserves to die because of poorly-resourced mental health services.

Jake McGill-Lynch on his Confirmation Day
Jake McGill-Lynch on his Confirmation Day
Image: Stephanie McGill-Lynch

Stephanie McGill-Lynch lost her 14-year-old son Jake when he took his own life in 2013.

Here, she writes about how Budget 2020 should focus on mental health services and not Brexit. 

AS BUDGET 2020 looms, I can’t help but think about all the things that our country’s leaders will ignore. Already, we can expect that this year’s budget is going to focus on Brexit. What we can guarantee is that for yet another year access to a reliable and efficient mental health service – and my son Jake – will not be on the Government’s list of priorities. 

Brexit does not matter to me. I am sure we will all feel the impact of it in some way but to focus our country’s expenditure plan on Brexit and to further overlook our mental health service when we have such a high suicide rate is shocking. 

What matters to me and to most of the country is our children. 

My 14-year-old beautiful boy Jake attended the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) just over 6 years ago. Waiting lists were not as bad as what they are now, but Jake was not seen as a priority because he was not suicidal or suffering from depression. He was a 14-year-old boy who was hormonal and anxious about his upcoming Junior Cert exams.

No child deserves to die

Jake was diagnosed with Aspergers and he was referred to an occupational therapist. There was a communication breakdown as an appointment was made for Jake to see a psychiatrist. Jake was prescribed Prozac – a form of antidepressant – on his first visit.  Jake was dead 46 days later.

No child deserves to die for having Aspergers or for sitting an exam.  As Jake’s parents, we have to live with our decisions every day that we did not do more for him.

At the end of the day though, I believe that had Jake had access to proper mental health services and rigorous monitoring and counselling, my beautiful son would still be here with us today.

The most important services in our country are under pressure and so things get rushed, prescriptions get given instead of therapies, children like my Jake fall through the cracks. I am not saying medication does not work because I have met people who are getting through their days thanks to medication. But one size does not fit all – especially when children are concerned.  

We as parents take responsibility for taking our eye of the ball in relation to our precious Jake. People who have not lost a loved one in tragic circumstances find it very easy to say “oh they are just looking for somebody to blame”, believe me this is not the case. I feel that most tragic deaths (suicides) are preventable, with the right help and the right information given to families we could reduce our horrific statistics. 

Not all my panic attacks happened between 9 to 5

I know what it is like to be so afraid of yourself, to be panicking beyond belief and then to try reach out for help only to find it is not there. Not all my panic attacks or trying to keep myself safe has happened between 9-5, Monday-to-Friday. I am one of the lucky ones that I can pay to access services but what happens to those who are not so lucky?

We have communities savaged by suicides. These people matter. They were and are loved. Ask many a bereaved family member and they will tell you how their loved one begged for help only to be told about a waiting list. We are failing a whole generation. Some of these families have turned the most horrific situation into a positive for others, by setting up bereavement groups and safe places for those who are suffering to go to.

But they also need funding. Why should it take a community to try solve a nationwide problem? Why is our Government not held accountable? We have a Minister for Children, we have a Minister for Health and Mental Health – why are they not pushing for financial aid to help solve this crisis? What bothers me is all the adverts on TV, radio and social media to look after your mental health. To reach out and talk to somebody.

But who are the people? Where are the services we can depend on? The services have been cut back to the bone and we have huge waiting lists to be seen. Young people are turning to A&E departments and garda stations to stay safe. We need 24/7 services for people and this should be a priority – not a privilege.

Trying to find a solution is not easy but that does not mean we should not try. I do not think we will ever eradicate suicide. However, I do feel that by investing in the correct services we will help minimise our dreadful statistics.

Communities are relying on fundraising

I do not think there is a community or family not touched by the death of a loved one by their own hand. Communities are relying on fundraising to try and prevent other families going through this heartache. Let’s give these people the support they require to continue doing the fantastic work they do.

It makes sense to keep and add services. It also makes sense to free up A&E departments, garda stations and more importantly the coroner’s court.

It is not okay for our publicly-elected Government Ministers to keep making expensive mistakes like the overspending on the National Children’s Hospital whilst other vulnerable groups lose out.

So, Minister Donohoe let’s invest in our young people. Let’s save lives. Let’s pay for services that are needed. Let’s help keep as many people alive as we can and invest in psychologists, counsellors and therapists.

And let’s make it happen for 2020 because every man, woman or child that has lost their life mattered. They are and always will be missed.

Forget about Brexit, let’s fix our own system that is broken because my family’s heartache can never be fixed without our beautiful Jake.

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About the author:

Stephanie McGill-Lynch

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