Hannah, now 20 years old, struggled with self-harm from the age of 14 and was unable to get appropriate help for several years. She is now working with local councils and CCGs as a citizen researcher, influencing the design of new services to support children and young people.
"I was 14 when my mum took me to the GP for the first time. She was worried as I was self-harming, but the doctor assured her the cuts were just superficial and that I wasn’t distressed enough to need help.
"Two months later I was back. This time my mum managed to persuade the doctor that I needed to go on the waiting list for a child and adolescent mental health service (CAMHS) assessment. I had to wait six months for my initial appointment, so in the meantime we paid for a private counsellor to help me, but it was too expensive and we had to stop.
"After my assessment I had to wait another year for any sort of therapy. I had cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for a year but it didn’t really help, and I continued to self-harm. I ended up in A&E several times, having taken an overdose. With no specialist mental health support on the children’s wards it could take up to two days for CAMHS to visit me in hospital to decide it was safe enough for me to go home.
"The nearest inpatient beds were at least an hour’s drive away, far from my family, with a long waiting list.
"School could not help me much either. I would be isolated when I was self-harming – it felt like I was being punished, but I needed help. Eventually, I was moved to a special needs school, which was great, but I don’t have special educational needs.
"I was diagnosed when I was 17 with borderline personality disorder traits. Psychiatrists were reluctant to diagnose me properly until I was 18, as young people go through so many changes – but it meant I wasn’t getting the help I needed. Instead I was given lots of labels – I had anxiety, depression, ADHD.
"When my CBT stopped at 16 I was discharged. I’d learnt a few coping mechanisms, but no more support was offered. I started college, but my time there was difficult. I was suffering mood swings; periods of mania to suicidal thoughts. I was difficult to be around at times and my friendships suffered. People joked about my behaviour, and worse.
"In the summer holidays between the first and second years of college I left home. We were finding it challenging to live together as a family. I slept on a friend’s sofa for a few months. The college’s staff were amazing, giving me money for transport and food parcels, taking me to the GP, but this was over and above what anyone had to do for me. They helped me find supported accommodation.
"I was referred to adult mental health services, but I still couldn’t get the diagnosis I needed. That last year of college I was in and out of crisis care, feeling suicidal and out of control. This was a really low point. Being picked up from college by an ambulance with everyone outside looking at me and taking photos is something you don’t easily forget.
"Everything changed when I hit 18. I was given a proper diagnosis and have just finished two years of tailored dialectical behavioural therapy, helping me to accept who I am, as well as changing unhelpful ways of thinking and behaving. Together with volunteering to support young people with learning disabilities I have developed new skills. I could have easily taken a different path but I learnt to fight for what I needed. I’m now self-harm free.
"Working with MH:2K has been very empowering. Working with local councils and CCGs as a citizen researcher, influencing the design of new services to support children and young people and sharing my story. I’ve even been to the House of Commons.
"I went back to my high school to talk about how mental health should be part the curriculum. My old deputy head was there and apologised to me for the way I was treated. That was an incredible moment."
MH:2K is a new model for engaging young people in conversations about mental health in their local area. Visit their website to learn more.