Nigel Williams: The young of Northern Ireland face a mental health crisis

From a speech by the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children, given in Belfast
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The Independent Online

It was a cold February night last year. Accompanied by the local youth worker Stephen, I drove around a small part of north and west Belfast. As we went up a street, he said in a matter-of-fact way: "The young man in that house took his own life a few weeks ago; the girl in that house has been self harming and tried to drug overdose; the boy in that house died last week a few weeks after his friend had taken his own life ..." and so it went on.

How can it be right if hard pressed front-line staff spend days trying to secure a bed in hospital for a suicidal young man, whose parents can't cope, and is under threat from the paramilitaries because he owes drug money? How can it be right that a number of mental health beds for adolescents have been closed for some months because of serious staffing problems? How can it be right for a GP to be told that consultant psychiatrists don't have time to see young people with serious mental health problems - they can only deal with emergencies?

How can it be right that a high school principal is so concerned for the welfare of his pupils that he has to go and beg local businesses to help fund the provision of a trained counsellor? How can it be right that the future of some ground-breaking projects in the field of prevention will stop because the Executive Programme Children's Fund is to end? I do not think it is overstating matters to say that the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services in Northern Ireland are in crisis.

Let us send a clear message to the Government about what we need; a clear message to the paramilitaries to get off the backs of our young people; a clear message to those who want to harm or abuse children and young people; a clear message to everyone involved in this issue that we must work together for the sake of all.