‘I’m just a mum desperate to make a change’

Annette McKenzie
“I let them see the rawness of a mother desperate to try and make a change

Annette McKenzie lost her daughter to suicide a year and a half ago.

The pain has never left but she says she is using it to fight for the mental health of everyone else’s sons and daughters.

Exactly a year since the Glasgow mother presented her petition to committee at Holyrood, she feels she is finally getting somewhere.

MSPs are listening to her plea to improve the way children are treated and the way doctors prescribe powerful medication.

It hasn’t been an easy year.

Annette’s own health has deteriorated, suffering anxiety and angina, or what she calls “a broken heart”.

Her eldest daughter Britney has been gone for 18 months, but the loss is no easier to bear.

“Life since then to be honest has been a lot harder, a lot more raw.

“When I stood in front of the Petitions Committee last January I was on auto pilot and full of medication.

“But I could at least do simple things then. That’s changed. My health’s worse now – I have angina.

“I know my heart’s been affected but it’s a broken heart, from so many lows of the past year – Britney’s 18th in October was by far the hardest yet.”

Britney Mazzoncini
Britney died after taking an overdose

Britney Mazzoncini was being bullied online.

She went to her GP with depression and suicidal thoughts and was prescribed a month’s supply of Propanol, an anti-anxiety drug.

Just over a fortnight later, she took an overdose and died at their family home in Glasgow.

Annette had no knowledge her daughter was taking the medication.

She lodged a petition at the Scottish Parliament asking for a rethink on the way GPs treat mental health conditions in young people.

She wants GPs to be unable to prescribe anti-depressants to under-18s without the knowledge of their parents.

MSPs have ordered more information on whether children are prescribed anti-depressants as “the first port of call or the last port of call”.

Annette sees this as a turning point in her fight.

She said: “For me this is about the minister for mental health agreeing we have a real problem with teens and treatment and the way we treat children.

“No child should go on a first visit to a GP with depression and leave with any medication without being referred first to someone who deals with mental health.”

Annette McKenzie and her late daughter Britney
Annette McKenzie’s daughter Britney took her own life after suffering online bullying

She wants the change for her other daughter and for her son and everyone else’s sons and daughters.

Young people contact her with similar problems: “The number of young people who have reached out to me, who I’ve spoken with and helped to get in contact with someone who can help them has helped me too.

“I’ve even had messages from people who said they were going to end their life but once reading my Facebook wall – the stuff I keep public – and watching my videos they say they can’t leave their parents in the pain I’m in.

“It’s bitter sweet – Britney’s story is saving not only her friends who knew her but also people she never knew and for me that’s a positive thing.”

Annette takes comfort in watching Britney’s friends living their lives to the full and never taking for granted what they have.

She wants to talk to as many young people as possible and get them to help each other when they have mental health issues or concerns for each other.

And at the end of the petition she named Britney’s Plea, Annette wants at the very least to see better guidelines for GPs when prescribing medication for young people.

She said: “Hopefully they will agree to bring in place new training for GP’s and I also hope they make it that no child or person is given pills on a first-ever visit to a GP.

“I want them to have to be referred and seen by a mental health professional before any treatment is given.

“If that had been in place with Britney she wouldn’t have been given those pills.”

She wants more discussion of the issues.

“I don’t want this to be the end.

“I want to be out there helping people, taking to them about mental health – about Britney.”

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Link to BBC article here

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Girls are facing a mental health crisis – and it’s not just because of Instagram

Sexual harassment, domestic abuse and poverty are growing causes of trauma among girls, and the gender disparity is going unnoticed
Young girl on the beach
Sexual harassment and assaults in schools have increased in recent years. 

In 2017 there has been report after report of a growing gender divide in mental health, with rising rates of mental illness among girls and young women. There has been little action to tackle these. In 2018, we have an opportunity to get things right.

From the intervention of a senior judge in the case of Girl X to rising numbers of girls and young women undergoing mental health admissionsself harm and suicidal thoughts, there has been wide range of evidence over the last year showing that our girls are facing a mental health crisis.

The reasons given by commentators for the worrying deterioration in young women and girls’ mental health tend to be the same: pressures of social media, body image and school. These things are undoubtedly part of the picture. But they are not the full story.

One of the biggest issues of the year has been the spotlight shone on sexual violence, harassment and abuse – from Harvey Weinstein and Westminster to the grooming gangs targeting vulnerable girls. This is an issue that is not going away.

For young women, the risks are particularly marked. They are facing sexual pressures, including from the availability of porn, which is informing relationships and driving the way men and boys behave towards girls and women. Sexual harassment and assaults in schools have increased in recent years. Sexual abuse and exploitation of girls remains widespread and young women are the most at-risk group for domestic abuse.

When you look at the types of mental health problems young women face, the more common disorders such as depression and anxiety are, as you might expect, widespread. But what is perhaps especially shocking is the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder, which one in seven young women experience. Far from this being a condition solely affecting veterans returning from wars, young women are being traumatised by sexual and physical violence and abuse on the streets, in our schools and in their homes.

The links between mental health issues and violence are well-established. Research for Agenda has found that out of all women who face a mental health problem, more than half have been abused. For one in four, that started in childhood.

At the same time, 2017 has seen a further increase in poverty, something that disproportionately affects women and children and which is another risk factor for poor mental health. There can be a tendency for commentators to look at mental health from a middle-class perspective, and to focus on social media, body image pressure and exam stress as causes. But we know that the links between poor mental health and poverty are marked.

We need to better understand and respond to these links. We need to help young women now, not store up problems for the future. Unresolved trauma and the stresses and pressure of poverty underpin many mental health issues. For some girls, their way of coping is to self-harm. For others, it is using drugs and alcohol – sometimes, it is both. This can lead to more problems such as addiction and homelessness, leaving women even more vulnerable to exploitation and enduring poverty.

To avoid this, we need to make sure help is available earlier. We urgently need to invest in mental health support in schools and communities that takes into account the particular needs of girls and young women, and identifies and supports those with experiences of abuse and trauma.

The government recently published a green paper on how to help children and young people with their mental health. Any real analysis of gender disparities was, however, lacking. But it is not too late, as these plans are currently out for consultation. 2018 is a chance to get them right.

Next year there will also be a review of the Mental Health Act, legislation on the use of restraint (something which again disproportionately affects girls and young women), and a domestic violence bill offering an historic opportunity to improve the response of public services to abuse.

I am also delighted to be co-chairing, alongside junior health minister Jackie Doyle-Price, the Women’s Mental Health Taskforce. This brings together experts on women’s mental health and involves key national organisations responsible for policy, commissioning and delivery of services, including NHS England and Public Health England. This is an opportunity to address and reverse the rising tide of mental ill health among young women.

Above all, in 2018, we must not ignore this alarming crisis, and acknowledge that gender inequality is a key driver. We need to recognise the impact of violence, abuse and poverty on young women and girls, and act now to prevent it having a devastating impact on their lives.

 

Katherine Sack-Jones is director of Agenda, an alliance of 50 charities working to help women and girls at risk.

 

 

Link to Guardian article here 

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