"I felt as though I was alone, that no-one was really listening"

Sarah (15) spoke to Newstalk about the shortcomings she experienced in Ireland's mental health services

"I felt as though I was alone, that no-one was really listening"

File photo, posed by model. Image: Shutterstock

Ireland has one of the highest rates of teen suicide in the developed world, according to UNICEF’s latest report card on child well-being.

The report - which was released earlier this week - raised serious questions about the services available to teenagers experiencing mental health problems in Ireland.

Newstalk Breakfast reporter Kieran Cuddihy spent time with one young woman - 15-year-old Sarah (not her real name) from Co Wexford - who knows all too well what shortcomings exist here.

Sarah explained that she was only 10 and still in primary school when her problems started.

She recalled: "I started feeling very self-conscious about myself, and I started to wonder what would happen after you die [...] Nothing really triggered, and I started thinking too deeply about stuff that I shouldn't have been thinking about.

"It was constantly, from the minute I woke up to the minute I'd fall asleep. Sometimes I wouldn't be able to sleep - I'd be awake throughout the night. Even there'd be some nights where I wouldn't sleep at all."

After these initial problems, the situation started getting a lot worse for Sarah.

"I fell into stages where I'd get really angry with myself," she explained. "Obviously that [moved] to self-injury and stuff. Then I'd get really angry at my mam or my dad out of nowhere - I'd switch like a bulb.

"Things got worse and worse again as time went by - each day, everything was just getting bigger and bigger, the thoughts were getting stronger."

Sarah received help from her GP, as well as counselling. But she felt that nobody was really listening to her.

She observed: "I felt as though I was alone, that no-one was really listening to my cries for help and stuff. [Self-injury] was like an urge - it was like it relieved the pain that I was feeling.

"It got worse then, during the counselling, and I had thoughts of suicide."

"I lost hope in everything"

Sarah believes that the people she was talking to "didn't know what I was capable of doing".

She described one particularly difficult day: "I got very strong urges one afternoon, and I had gone out for a walk - but luckily I had come back. I had told my mam and my dad, and I got help then again when I went back to my GP and medication was changed."

After receiving some counselling, Sarah was eventually referred to see a psychiatrist. Like many other young people, she ultimately had to wait over a year (18 months) for an appointment - a wait that could have been even longer if her parents had not lobbied everyone they could to try and secure an earlier appointment.

Another issue Sarah faced the experience was stigma. She found herself being bullied and called names such as 'psycho' in school.

"I lost hope in everything," she said. "I lost hope in actually seeking help and getting better. I saw no future. It made me worse: it made me think that nobody actually cares.

"It made me go on a very big low of expression again, because I just felt worthless and useless."

Today, Sarah is much improved, and has just finished sitting her Junior Cert (which she described as a 'breeze').

She told Kieran: "I'm better now than I was before - a lot better. I'm back playing my sports and stuff, and out with friends. But a lot was to do with family and friends supporting me.

"I'm just hoping now that during the summer I'll be back on my feet as normal."

Sarah says she would feel significantly safer if she knew there was 24/7 help available in her community.

"I'd feel as though the Government and everything was actually doing something for mental health," she concluded.

Anyone affected by the issues highlighted by Sarah's story can contact Pieta House on 1800-247-247 or the Samaritans on 116-123