‘Heartbreaking in every way’ - how my son’s drug crisis exposed ‘dire need’ for mental healthcare
Fiona Hannah, from Ipswich, was so horrified to see “there was nothing to help” her son when his mental illness spiralled out of control, she set up her own Teenage Mental Health clinic. Here she tells ANDREW PAPWORTH why there is a “dire need” for better mental healthcare in Suffolk.
When her beloved son hit crisis point, repeatedly taking drugs, drinking and self-harming, a devastated Fiona Hannah was shocked to discover "there was nothing to help him".
It was a moment the devoted mother found "heartbreaking in every way" - not least because she could see her son Jesper's life desperately spiralling out of control, needing more support than was available.
Many would feel helpless and unable to stop the pain and anguish descending into a vicious circle, as Jesper took drugs to try and cope with long-term undiagnosed anxiety.
But, fuelled by the burning injustice of her family's moment of despair, she summoned the strength tackle the very thing she believed was wrong with the system.
Having already studied psychology, she retrained as a child psychologist, she has painstakingly built Teenage Mental Health - the private therapy service she wishes her son could have had in his moment of need.
Having run the organisation out of her home living room for years, this month she has finally realised her dream of expanding it to bespoke premises in Coachmans Court, The Old Cattle Market, near to the Buttermarket Shopping Centre.
Her team of 10 therapists will be able to see 160 children and young people a week, 110 more than at present - and she hopes it will help to catch problems early, before people reach a full-blown crisis.
Even though the service is private, with sessions costing £50 an hour, initial assessments are free - and Ms Hannah believes it will plug a crucial gap in Ipswich while NHS services are stretched to breaking point.
A spokesman for NHS Ipswich and East Suffolk and NHS West Suffolk clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), pointed out that "mental health services across east and west Suffolk are undergoing a major transformation through #AVeryDifferentConversation, which began in May 2018, and has involved local people, service users and health and care organisations".
Ms Hannah is frustrated she is having to provide a private service - which she says she has taken no salary from, instead investing the profits into the new premises - to meet the demand caused by NHS shortfalls.
However the CCGs' spokesman said #AVeryDifferentConversation is "major piece of work that we are determined will result in vastly improved services and better outcomes".
The spokesman added that there is "already a lot of good work happening to support the emotional wellbeing of our children and young people and their families" - such as Kooth, a service which enables youngsters to access online counselling via their mobile phone.
It also pointed to a linicial psychologist who offers support inschools and an emotional wellbeing hub which "is one of the first of its kind in the country and provides specially-trained practitioners to offer support, guidance and referrals to other services where appropriate".
Ms Hannah said: "I'd much rather have a job in the NHS seeing patients than having to work privately.
"When Jesper went into crisis, I found out there was nothing to help him. I came from a therapeutic background, so I was really shocked.
"I was sat with a severely ill child. If he'd had cancer, there would have been support groups and other things to help.
"If your child is mentally ill, there's nothing. As a mum, you can see they're so poorly but you can't affect any change.
"It's seriously upsetting to have a child who was seriously ill, but child and adolescent mental health services don't have the resources to help them.
"I thought: 'This has got to change.' So I started my own private practice - I started Teenage Mental Health."
Ms Hannah is concerned is also fears many mental health services help people in crisis - rather than earlier, when it might prevent problems from developing.
"We need to stop seeing this as a charitable thing," she said.
"At the moment, a lot is falling to charities. What you're telling children is that you don't deserve a service, you deserve a charity.
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"It doesn't matter what political party comes in - it needs money."
Of Teenage Mental Health, she said: "This is not about making money. It's about providing something robust that helps people.
"I haven't taken a salary out of the business. Every single penny I get has been put into the new premises.
"We're here to help people with early interventions. Look at cancer - if you have a few cancer cells and you get them lasered early, you get better. It is the same principle with mental health.
"We are also about working from a family base. It is no coincidence that the kids who come here with their parents get better quicker.
"All our parents say they are so happy they have found us, because no-one was listening to them."
Teenage Mental Health is officially unveiling its new premises with a celebration between 6.30pm and 8.30pm on Wednesday, December 4.
My drinking and drug-taking 'spiralled out of control'
Jesper Dean began to experience anxiety as a teenager, but the condition remained undiagnosed.
"When I got to the age of 18, I got into drinking and drug-taking for my social anxiety," he said.
"It spiralled out of control from there."
Jesper, who was studying at the University of West London at the time but had to leave the course because of his problems, added: "I started self-harming. I was high off cocaine from my social anxiety, then I would have that come-down effect. That would leave me feeling awful.
"The drugs help at the time, but in the long-term they make it worse. I would get very paranoid, thinking some geezer wants to stab me for some reason."
Mr Dean spent a month in the famous Priory clinic to help treat his mental health problems and addiction, but was still self-harming after he left.
He then saw a therapist from The Priory over a longer period and said: "She really helped me."
After a gap year to help deal with his problems, Mr Dean went to Solent University in Southampton to read digital music - showing it is possible to overcome mental illness and succeed.
He now hopes to embark on a career in music production - but not before helping his mother with Teenage Mental Health, a cause close to both their hearts.
They have both put a great deal of effort into making sure the Coachmans Court premises is comfortable and looks more like a home than a series of treatment rooms, as Mr Dean knows from his own recovery how important this is.
Speaking of her son's mental illness, Ms Hannah said: "It was heartbreaking in every way.
"People take drugs and alcohol because they can't cope with the emotional pain," arguing that many people also self-harm in other ways - for example by over-eating.
"Unfortunately, society has to judge people and they're stigmatised because they've taken drugs.
"I knew I needed to sit with him in that pain, not throw stones at him.
"The assumption from other people is that they think you must've done something wrong.
"Jesper came from a good home. We had a really healthy home. We were open and honest. Everything that should've been there was there."
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