The mental health crisis of Croydon’s children

By - Wednesday 13th September, 2017

Let’s work together to help families affected by young people’s mental health issues

When I was a deputy headteacher, I was woken one night in early June by a phone call asking me to go down to a police station to pick up a vulnerable year 11 student. When I say ‘vulnerable’, I mean distressed, angry, wild, violent and beyond reason, but inside was a small child crying for help.

I got into my car and blundered off to an unknown destination in the north of Croydon. I was taken to the basement to discuss collecting the girl, who had arrived some hours earlier. She’d been placed in a cell for everyone’s safety as she had a rather large collection of knives and no-one could work out what was going on. By this stage she was raging and the cell was covered in her vomit.

For quite some time, the desk sergeant and I discussed her situation and motivations. Things had fallen apart at home after a family counsellor had asked during a session with her family who they held responsible for the family’s problems; she had been made the scapegoat. The counsellor had then asked the family to rate their feelings for her on a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 indicated that they really loved her and 10 that they hated her. Her father gave the lowest score of 10. She was thirteen years old at the time, and never got over that experience. Things spiralled out of control. She slept rough a lot, avoiding home; eventually the NSPCC had become became involved.

Life can be made so much better with appropriate support

By about 4 a.m. the desk sergeant agreed to take a professional risk and let the child come home with me; the alternative was that she would be sectioned under the Mental Health Act. I promised a small secluded bedroom, a fridge that would be kept stocked and to keep her out of any further trouble with the police. I stuck out for her because I knew that she was completely sane (as sane as anyone could be after all the abuse she had been through) and angry for very good reason. If she went into a mental hospital, there was a very good chance that she would be sedated.

As a senior teacher I honesty knew nothing at that time about mental health; all I could offer was a network of support and a secure home. I thought she stood a better chance with friends who cared than lost in institutions. She was, and still is, an extraordinarily bright person. Today she works in a well-respected profession and is an international business woman. We are still Facebook friends.

I now understand the ways in which her life could have been made so much better if she had had appropriate support early on. This year I went with another family on a similar journey. They were desperate and did not know what to do for their son, who after many years of chronic anxiety had closed down, refused to leave his bed or to eat or drink. The NHS offered him strong medication and suggested sectioning him under the Mental Health Act. His mother knew of no case where a person had emerged from mental hospital better, and fought against this proposal.

Many families in Croydon are coping quietly with mental health problems

She kept control of all medication and monitored it; she researched online every alternative and slowly found for her child and her family a strategy that worked for him. In the last few weeks, he left the house for the first time in eight months and came to a café in South Croydon where he shared a meal with friends.

In Croydon there are many families quietly coping with mental health issues. Endemic system failures then make a desperate situation far worse. Croydon has stories to tell. The All Party Parliamentary Group on a Fit and Healthy Childhood is working to raise funds to write a report on this issue. I would like to encourage anyone in Croydon who has a story to tell to contact the group, so that it hears the very personal stories of some of the people that carry this heavy burden.

We know how hard it can be for those affected by these problems, but Croydon is also good at thinking of solutions that work. We have a lot to say about how to make life for children with mental health problems easier and are good at thinking of solutions that work. Let us lobby together to bring change for the better.

We’re working to part fund this Children’s Mental Health Report; through doing so we can ensure that there is a strong voice for Croydon. Thanks go to everyone who contributed to our recent crowd-funding initiative. We will continue to work together to help make this happen.

Charlotte Davies

Charlotte Davies

I am an Educational Consultant, Director of Fit 2 Learn CIC, Fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts. My teaching experience has covered Economics and Business Education including Enterprise; I have worked as a senior teacher. I now work to identify the root causes of educational under-achievement.

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  • Anne Giles

    Excellent article.