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Children's suicide prevention charity The Life Matters starts early intervention service to address gaps in mental health support across Medway schools

Thousands of children and young people with mental health problems are falling through the cracks amid increased waiting times for support services.

Around 7% of children in the UK have attempted suicide by the age of 17, according to research from the Millennium Cohort Study.

The Life Matters chief executive, Mary Brockwell, explains what is needed

It comes amid a perfect storm of problems, first due to the pandemic and more recently due to the cost of living crisis.

The Life Matters – children's suicide prevention charity – predicts 12,000 children are currently struggling with their mental health in Medway alone.

Chief executive Mary Brockwell said: "When you go into schools or work in social services and a child says to you they do not want to be here any more, it means something needs to be done.

"I went into a school about four years ago and an eight-year-old told me he wanted to die and that is when I made my mind up that this needs to be done now.

"I would not like to think of anyone losing a child, it is the hardest thing especially if they do not need to. If there is an opportunity to stop that before it happens then that is where I want to be."

Research suggests 7% of children have attempted suicide by the age of 17. Picture: Brian A Jackson
Research suggests 7% of children have attempted suicide by the age of 17. Picture: Brian A Jackson

The Life Matters are offering wellbeing guidance across school's in Medway to children who have been referred to them as having self-harmed or are living with suicidal thoughts.

It started after finding a gap in services for children's suicide prevention. Mary says some kids are waiting years before they first get help.

"It is really hard because social services are overrun so when they get a mental health case they send it on to others such as CAMHS," she added.

"But these services are also overrun. There are no services available for up to 18 months and children."

CAMHS stands for child and adolescent mental health services and is a free service provided through the local NHS for help with mental health. People are usually referred to the service by school or GPs.

The charity predicts there are around 12,000 children in Medway struggling and in need of professional help and guidance.

Youngsters who are young carers, live in poverty and so cannot attend school or have autism or trouble communicating are most at risk.

Mary, who lost her brother to suicide 25-years-ago, added: "I think Covid and more recently with the price increases on petrol, food and poverty that everything is coming at children from all these different angles.

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"When children were staying at home and going into school, sometimes schools are their support network and their happy place so not going to school has definitely highlighted the problems.

"More so with the poverty and rising prices it is even more important we support these children going forward."

The 50-year-old said children are falling through the cracks due to unavoidable waiting lists. The charity's aim is to help relieve this demand from other service providers.

Mary also said she was "frightened" that without immediate help children may "accidentally" die by suicide.

She added: "We have found that by just listening, talking, identifying their needs and doing holistic assessments has really helped the families and helped them to grow.

"Unfortunately, you find out a lot of children are not being able to use their voice and are not being picked up on. They are not able to cope or express their feelings.

More children are needing access to mental health services
More children are needing access to mental health services

"Every single child is unique but of course we are not magic. We hope to try and build resilience and we have worked with lots of children to build this. That is why we came together."

Mary, who lives in Rochester, added the team do have a safeguarding procedure and if they believe someone needs to be referred to another service they will do so.

The charity is running eight to 10 week sessions for eight to 17-year-olds but are only taking on those who are not currently receiving other support.

The programme aims to help children find their voice to express their thoughts and feelings through exercises and games, ensuring they have a safe person to go to and the family has a safety plan in place.

For example, the teams have worked with an eight-year-old and by helping him rebuild his confidence he is now safe, has made friends and is happier.

They also inspired a 15-year-old to become a mental health nurse after she built a positive relationship with her emotions instead of letting them negatively affect her.

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