‘I started planning for a funeral’: Parents plead for improved youth mental health services

Deanne and Graham Kirkman were so disappointed in the mental health support available for their teenage daughter Mikayla in 2016 that they began planning her funeral while she was still alive.

It was her third visit to Women and Children’s Hospital (WCH) and Deanne Kirkman knew it would be her last.

Staff had told her there was nothing they could do to help Mikayla and sent her home, Kirkman said.

“It was at that moment that I left the hospital without any hope, knowing that I would never go back there,” he said.

“Instead of getting help, I started planning a funeral.”

A couple of months later, at the age of 16, Mikayla committed suicide.

Now, she lives through photos and memories and a special garden in her parents’ front yard.

A woman and a man stand side by side with one arm around the other's back.
Deanne and Graham Kirkman say they don’t want any other family to go through what they experienced.(ABC NewsEvelyn Manfield)

As the state election approaches, Mikayla’s parents felt compelled to speak out, motivated to make sure no other family goes through the same experience as them.

The Kirkmans are desperate for increased funding for youth mental health, which will lead to more beds and child psychiatrists.

According to a federal Department of Health website, suicide is the leading cause of death among young Australians, with more than 350 people between the ages of 18 and 24 taking their own lives each year.

“If so many people were dying of cancer, they would be throwing money away,” Ms. Kirkman said.

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a garden plaque with 'Mikayla's Garden' engraved on ita garden plaque with 'Mikayla's Garden' engraved on it
Mikayla’s parents have a special garden dedicated to their daughter in their front yard. (ABC NewsEvelyn Manfield)

‘There is simply no help available’

Another mother desperate for change is Melissa Kingston-Lee, whose 17-year-old son Zayah has presented to WCH more than 100 times in the last 18 months, with one visit in December 2021 ending so badly that Zayah walked out of the hospital and was hit by a van in what Ms. Kingston-Lee believes was a suicide attempt.

Unbeknownst to her, police had brought Zayah to WCH in the middle of the night after they were found sitting on a bridge.

Ms. Kingston-Lee said that no one from the hospital had told her that her teenage son was there, and while a doctor was preparing to discharge Zayah, there was no security at the door, so Zayah was able to leave the hospital without supervision.

A woman with a long ponytail stands outdoors looking forwardA woman with a long ponytail stands outdoors looking forward
Melissa Kingston-Lee has filed a formal complaint about her son’s experience at WCH.(ABC NewsEvelyn Manfield)

Ms. Kingston-Lee said the 17-year-old was hit shortly after by a large van, causing injuries so severe that the teen required surgery three times.

“It’s been hell,” said Ms. Kingston-Lee of her experience trying to access help.

“I just want to be able to keep Zayah safe.”

Since the incident, Ms. Kingston-Lee has made an official complaint to the head psychiatrist about her son’s experience.

A teenage boy lying with his eyes closed in a hospital bedA teenage boy lying with his eyes closed in a hospital bed
Zayah, 17, during one of her admissions to the hospital. (Supplied)

While it cannot comment on specific patients, the Women and Children’s Health Network said it takes all incidents very seriously and, in accordance with its normal hospital protocols, a review would be conducted if necessary.

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“Children who present to our Pediatric Emergency Department (PED) with mental health needs are seen by the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) emergency mental health care team, as needed,” a spokeswoman said in a statement.

“All children requiring admission to Mallee Ward, after evaluation by PED and mental health staff, will be admitted in consultation with a consultant psychiatrist.”

The Kingston-Lee and Kirkman families are among those planning to attend a Parents for Change rally Saturday calling for more pediatric mental health inpatient beds, more pediatric psychiatrists, and better public and community mental health support. of the NGOs.

Increased demand for youth mental health services

The Women’s and Children’s Health Network 2020-21 annual report found there have been “significant increases” in demand for mental health in both acute and community settings, with a 41 percent increase in pediatric emergency department referrals and 21 percent. increase in admissions to Mallee Ward’s 12-bed inpatient hospital.

The annual report also showed that the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service had provided service on more than 100,000 occasions.

Kingston-Lee said at least triple the number of crisis beds was needed, along with more funding for the sector.

Parents for Change co-founder Kate Stephens said she wanted youth mental health to become a key election issue.

“My parents have told me their suicidal son was told he was seeking care and sent home with nothing,” he said.

“We want mental health to be taken seriously.”

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As families continue to highlight mental health, both sides are devising policies to address the issue.

A large multi-story building on a sloping city streetA large multi-story building on a sloping city street
The data shows that there has been an increase in admissions to the WCH juvenile mental health ward. (ABC News: Eugenio Boisvert)

Health Minister Stephen Wade said the government has signaled it would make more mental health commitments as the election campaign continues.

He said the government had already set aside $163.5 million in the 2021-22 state budget.

“Work is underway to increase child and adolescent psychiatrist positions, as well as more psychiatric trainee positions,” he said.

“While much remains to be done, we are the only party implementing a real plan for mental health in South Australia.”

Opposition Health spokesman Chris Picton said that if he were elected to government, his party would make children’s mental health a top priority.

“WCH needs more staff to reduce service delays and treat more children,” he said.

“We will be hiring an additional 48 doctors, including 17 senior specialists and 12 specialist nurses, which will include more mental health care.

Mr. Picton has also committed to delivering an additional 50 beds in the new WCH.

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