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‘I waited nine months then had to move house to get any mental health care’

A student nurse said she felt “abandoned” as she struggled to get the mental health support she needed amid a worsening mental health crisis among young people.

Niamh O’Connor has had an eating disorder for six years, which led to her being admitted to hospital. When she left at the end of 2020, she found herself on a waiting list for nine months but it was only when she moved house that she says she was finally offered care.

“It felt like I was being abandoned,” Ms O’Connor said. “It made me feel like maybe I’m not worthy of the support, or I don’t deserve it, or I’m not ill enough to receive support.”

While her university campus was only half an hour away from her house, she decided to move there because it was in a different catchment area in the hope of getting help.

“I found accessing support is a postcode lottery,” said Ms OConnor, who also suffers with anxiety and OCD. “I’ve moved around three different postcodes in the last few years. It doesn’t depend on how ill you are, it’s luck of the draw. Then sometimes when you do get it, it’s not enough and it’s not right.”

The 23-year-old said the care she’s receiving now is “an improvement from having nothing, but they don’t have the time and it’s overstretched”.

She said she has also still faced having to “almost choose which of my conditions are worse” when applying to receive care. She said the forms she fills out to apply for help for her anxiety or OCD are rejected because she is already under the care of the eating disorder unit, despite all three conditions requiring specific and different treatment.

Patients waiting for mental health support can be waiting longer than six months in 12 per cent of cases, such as Ms O’Connor’s, while six per cent of patients wait for more than a year, according to research released by the Royal College of Psychiatrists last year.

When O’Connor left at the end of 2020, she found herself on a waiting list for nine months

(Niamh O’Connor)

It comes as new data has revealed almost every young adult (95 per cent) reported feeling anxiety in the last 12 months. The research by mental health charity Mind and Direct Line Insurance found one-fifth of young people experience these feelings all the time.

Ms O’Connor said: “The stats are very, very high, but it doesn’t shock me because I know from my own experience the general consensus is a lot of people have been feeling really anxious over the last 12 months and this has increased in recent times.”

She attributed these feelings primarily to the effects of the pandemic and all the changes it wrought, including multiple lockdowns, a sharp decline in socialising and disruption to education.

While she said the figures are partly so high because of more awareness around mental health, she added that young people “have suffered quite badly after the last few years the world has seen”, said Ms O’Connor.

She stressed that people working in health services are desperate to help but are often unable to due to a lack of funding and resources for, and access to, mental health services. “From my experience, the mental health crisis is not being addressed,” she added.

Now working as a student nurse, the 23-year-old is experiencing health care from the other side. She said she has seen understaffing and rules being broken because staff just don’t have enough time. “It can be demoralising, because you go into the health service to help people and make a difference but that’s not always possible.”