Mental health: ‘We could help but nobody told us how’

  • By Sarah Gurvin
  • BBC News IS

Image caption,

Both William Scott and Connell Gould had mental health problems before their deaths

Two mothers who lost sons to mental health problems say a “new approach” is needed to deal with such problems in Northern Ireland.

The women were speaking at an event in Stormont organized by the New Script for Mental Health campaign.

The event encouraged attendees to outline what changes they would like to see in mental health services.

Mary Gould’s son Conall died aged 21 after struggling with mental health issues.

The Ballymena midwife said changes to services were needed as soon as possible.

“Conal was so full of life, so happy, really into sports, had so many friends,” she said.

Image caption,

Connell’s mother said the family could have helped him if they had been properly equipped to deal with mental health issues

“As a family we just feel we could have had a lot more support or been given to help Conall on our own.

“If we had been given the tools and the understanding of what was going on, we could have helped Conall so much.

“We didn’t know where to start and we had never seen anything like this before. There was no one to show us.”

“Daily Struggle”

Conall died in 2017. His mother said his loss continues to have a huge impact on his family and friends.

“It’s a daily struggle for me personally,” she said.

“Very difficult for me. Every morning I wake up and I can’t believe my child is gone.

“We were just a normal little family and we’re in the worst nightmare you can think of.

Deirdre McCausland, from west Belfast, received support for her mental health.

She worries that budget pressures and cuts mean the services she’s relied on in the past may no longer be available.

“I’ve found that as an individual I’ve become more confident, more appreciative of myself, more loving of who I am, and just by listening to their stories, it also makes me feel human, makes me feel sane, that there are other people going through what I’m going through,” she said.

“We need funding for curative therapies and they need to be timely – they are vital.”

“How many people are fighting?”

William Scott was told he had autism at the age of 18, but his mother Kirsty said he “couldn’t cope” with the diagnosis.

He died of an accidental drug overdose when he was 19 years old.

His father Gordon died of a heart attack a year and a half later.

Image caption,

William Scott as a little boy with his father Gordon

After suffering two severe losses in such a short space of time, Kirsty needed mental health support.

She said she received good care but the same support was not available to William when he was alive.

She said parents need more guidance.

“Ten years later and I’m saddened that people still have to go through this,” she said.

“How many people listen to my story, struggling with their own child, struggling to get services?”

“This is probably the last thing I can do for William. William is no longer here and he would not want anyone else to suffer like this.

“I watched this little boy go from a funny little boy with blond hair to someone who sat there with a hood over his head to eat his dinner, who was in his room 23 hours a day, didn’t come out until three in the morning, to prepare food.

“Mental health is very important and until I went through it I didn’t understand it.”

For Kirsty, talking was the only thing that helped her – as she told her story, she met other people who had also lost children.

“We don’t want to belong to this club, but we are in this club,” she said.

“We need to make changes because what we have now is just not working and people are frustrated. While we have a voice, our children still have a voice.”

“Flip the Script”

Sarah Boyce of Participation and Practice Rights (PPR) said the current approach to mental health in Northern Ireland was “outdated”.

“There needs to be a conversation,” she said.

“Instead of asking people what’s wrong with you, start asking people what happened to you?”

“And that completely flips the script. That’s what we’re starting to do here, we’re having a conversation that we hope more and more people will join.”

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