Sam Barakat is the campaigner running Support For Us. Below is her experiences of mental health issues and what lead her to start this campaign.

At 15 years old, I noticed that things related to my mental health started to change. Due to issues with my memory, which I expand on later, I find it difficult to recall this moment in my life. It was when I was 16 that I first noticed the issues I was experiences and had a name for it. Whilst I wouldn’t recommend self-diagnosing, for me it was my onlyo ption. Having looked up depression, I felt that it very much related to myself. When doing the online depression screening tests (which aren’t in themselves a diagnosis), I scored quite high with depression.

My motivation had dropped, where simple things like getting up for school proved difficult. Over time this progressed to issues including not enjoying activities that I used to love, for example cycling and issues seeing hope in the future.

I had regular thoughts of suicide, whether it was thinking of methods of suicide “you could kill yourself by…” or thoughts around life generally “what’s the point of living”.

Motivational issues, on top of suicidal thoughts, lead me to never try to succeed with important parts of adolescence like my education and having aims and aspirations for the future.

I’ve never had the best of memories, but my memory was, and still is, affected by my depression. I would struggle to remember basic things like what I’m doing or what I’ve already completed. Over time, I’ve become unable to remember large chunks of my life, including my teenage years. Whether it’s my favourite memories like my various holidays, or my lowest moments when I’ve been suicidal, they’re all a bit of a blur.

I’ve never had a close bond with my parents. Added onto the stigma around depression, it’s never been something I feel I can speak to my family about. When I first wanted help for my depression, I felt there was no where to turn. I didn’t feel like I could go to the GP or mental health services without my parents findings out. The school I was attending, like many others, had a policy where, regardless of your age (even if you were 18), parental consent would be required to leave school. This meant that attending appointments would prove difficult, due to many appointments being during school times. Due to having experiences with teachers where they’d told my parents about things, without my knowledge despite no risk being deemed, my mental health issues were never something I felt I could bring up. Added onto this, referrals and appointment letters are usually sent in the post. For me, post wasn’t confidential because I was living with my family and I would rarely get things in the post so it would raise suspicions if I tried to be secretive about a letter. This meant that I didn’t feel I had anywhere to turn to get support. 

I managed to find a charity that provided online counselling sessions, which I used for half a year. Whilst I’d definitely say that this was helpful, I feel having in person therapy would have been far more beneficial for myself. 

For unrelated reasons, whilst having online counselling, I ended up attending CAMHS with my parents. This experience for me was far from helpful. I had a few appointments, all of which the practitioners were only speaking to my parents. One thing that stands out to me looking back is the fact that whenever I’m at physical health appointments with my parents, questions will always be directed at myself; even ones about when I was very young which I remember very little about and my parents know far more. CAMHS on the other hand only asked my parents questions. At no point was there a conversation between myself and the CAMHS practitioners. At no point was I given time to speak and I didn’t feel comfortable opening up because my parents were in the room the entire time. A lot of what my parents said regarding my mental health was incorrect, due to me never opening up to them, which added to me not being willing to open up and correct them.  My issues with depression or the fact that I was already was receiving counselling was never brought up. The only time I did speak was in fact related to physical health as opposed to mental health. 

At 18, when I went to my GP with my parents about my depression, I had a very unhelpful experience where at no point would the GP speak to me. When I corrected my parents on something, the GP went straight back to talking to my parents. This very much mirrored the experiences I had with CAMHS.

Whilst I still have depression, my mental health has improved over the years. This has led me to want to make a positive change in society. Alongside the other mental health work that I’m doing, I am campaigning for CAMHS to be more accessible and confidential for young people. This includes:

  • Being able to get a referral and be seen by a CAMHS practitioner without parents* knowing
  • Where parents are involved, ensuring that confidentiality, provided no risk is deemed, is kept

When confidentiality has to be broken for the safety of the young person/others, this is done in the least distressing way for that young person. This campaign will also look a ways in which schools can better support students, both in terms of mental health generally but also ensuring that the students feel that they can trust the staff within their school to open up about any issues their experiencing.

I am petitioning for the government and the NHS to reassess the way CAMHS is accessed and the confidentiality of young people.

To sign the petition, please head over to: https://www.change.org/p/theresa-may-mp-make-camhs-more-accessible-and-confidential-for-young-people-98a1f8ad-6b64-409b-a792-eb7e7421c2b3

*Where parents are mentioned, this is referring to parents or guardians of the young person