Columnist Gemma Good

The good people behind the reports

In this week's Good Life column, Gemma bravely goes back to a darker time in her teenage years and acknowledges the help she received from members of Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) in her personal battle...

I really believe, in this day and age, having an underfunded youth mental health system is a joke.

I was really upset when I saw yet another report on the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) make the headlines last week. The system provides mental health services to young people under the age of 18 years. It is funded by the government and, to access services, you must be referred by your GP.

A report published by Inspector for Mental Health Services, Dr Susan Finnerty, last week stated that she cannot assure parents that their children have access to a safe, effective and evidence-based mental health service. For parents and young people, this is alarming to hear and I think it is shameful that prioritising improved mental health services for our youth is not a top priority for the government.

Listening to friends who are student teachers, being a young person now, compared to when I was in primary or secondary school, has changed drastically. I think there is so much pressure on young people today to be something they are not with social media responsible for the brunt of it. I think the government need to step up to meet the needs of people who will run our country in the future.

The same day I saw the report, I attended a cheque presentation at the hospital where I met Gillian Martin, a play specialist in Cavan General. She didn’t remember me; of course, I wasn’t offended. I am sure she comes across many children on a daily basis. I look very different now to how I did in December 2017. The days were dull, and the winter was harsh. I don’t really remember much from those days, but I do remember Gillian doing her rounds of the ward, bringing toys and cheer to patients and families. I don’t like mentioning this time in my life too much, not that I am ashamed or anything, but I don’t bring it up unless I feel the need to.

That day I felt the need to, these people don’t receive enough acknowledgement for what they do. I took Gillian’s photo and asked her to confirm the spelling of her name. She told me she was a play specialist and, as she did so, I told her that she once looked after me on the paediatric ward. Her face lit up; it was the second time that day that she had met a past patient. Her smile and her reaction said it all. People in the healthcare services put their heart and soul into their job and they need to be supported.

It really is no wonder Gillian didn’t recognise me; it was probably the first time I ever smiled back at her. The encounter left me thinking about the past. In equal measure to the staff at Cavan General Hospital, I have those at CAMHS in Cavan to thank. Between them both, they put the smile back on my face. I attended CAMHS for two years for an eating disorder. I had two therapists whom I visited twice weekly, and then once when they thought I could manage a little bit more. I owe everything to them, there really isn't a day that goes by when I don’t think of what they did for me and my family.

In the beginning I hated every single session and everybody in there, which I told them often. They persevered and they pulled me through. Everything I have achieved in my life so far, I owe it to them. If it wasn’t for them, I really don’t know if I would be where I am today.

I know lots of people have unpleasant experiences with CAMHS and this truly needs to change, and I hope the report will be a positive step towards implementing change. For me, behind the report of a dangerous system for young people, was a person who gave the assurance of only being a phone call away at any time; a person who worked through her lunch break to fit in a counselling session, she always made time and she always listened.

The day I was discharged she gave me a stone reading “u are FAB” and that stone comes everywhere with me, serving as a constant reminder of what CAMHS did for me.

Yes, changes need to happen. There are not enough mental health services for people in this country, but the people behind these reports are doing their best with what they have. I know this first-hand.

* Gemma Good is from Killeshandra and a third year journalism student in University of Limerick


A peaceful life in the Killeshandra countryside