Family heartbreak: Suicidal teen was refused help
A heartbroken Tamworth mum has blown the whistle on woeful youth mental health services in the region, after her son twice attempted suicide because he was turned away from three treatment facilities.
As Deb Flentjar stared at the words "I love you, goodbye" in a text from her 17-year-old son Mitch, she knew her world was crumbling, but she wasn't surprised.
Her son has Asperger's and ADHD and had been suicidal as his mental health rapidly declined.
But Mrs Flentjar said Mitch, who is currently recovering in hospital, is like many other rural teens who are falling through the cracks because government paediatric mental health services will not treat teenagers if they have dropped out of school to work full-time.
"My son left school last year (aged 16) to start work and the (Tamworth Base Hospital) Paediatric Clinic stopped seeing him for prescription of his ADHD medication because he was not at school," she told The Daily Telegraph.
"Last November his mental health started to decline rapidly again … community health wouldn't take him as he was no longer at school … We had another hospital visit after a threat of suicide and were sent home with Seroquel (medication) and the promise of a follow-up from someone in community health. No follow up happened."
The Tamworth Paediatric Clinic website states the referral eligibility criteria as 0-16 years and 16-18 years "if still in full-time schooling".
Mrs Flentjar said in November last year during another decline Mitch was turned away by the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) because he was not in school and sent to Headspace Tamworth, where there was an eight to 12-week waitlist.
CAMHS is a speciality service run by the Hunter New England Local Health District (HNELHD) and their website states it does not provide treatment to teenagers who are not attending school.
"It provides assessment and treatment for young people up to 17-years-old, or who are attending school," the website reads.
The Daily Telegraph contacted Headspace but the youth mental health foundation did not disclose how long their current waiting lists were.
Mrs Flentjar said the help available was too little too late.
"(Three weeks ago he attempted suicide) and my husband stopped him and we called an ambulance … and took him to the hospital, the hospital transferred him to Banksia Mental Health Unit and they released him after six hours," she said.
The Banksia team told the family they cannot support adolescents and that home was the best place for Mitch despite both parents working full-time.
"(Shortly after, CAMHS) advised they were not going to take him as a patient as he was too old for the Children and Adolescent (unit) and too young for adult team but reassured me once again he was not at risk of suicide."
A few days after these reassurances, Mrs Flentjar came home to find Mitch had attempted suicide.
The family has managed to secure a transfer for Mitch to Newcastle Hospital this week, but they are now four hours away from home and family.
The couple shared their story in the Tamworth local Facebook page and were inundated with more than 150 responses of similar stories.
"I don't want anyone else to ever have to go through this."
Hunter New England Mental Health Services executive director Dr Brendan Flynn said the decision to take on patients is based off "clinical need".
He said participation in school is not an exclusion criterion, despite the website stating it clearly on the CAMHS and Tamworth Pediatric Clinic official pages.
"Each patient is assessed on a case-by-case basis, and their age, mental health treatment needs and developmental stage (which varies greatly amongst older teenagers) are considered.
"Participation in school or employment is just one criterion to help determine the most appropriate service," he said.
"Young people receive care in Tamworth through the District's Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and Community Mental Health Team. Both services can provide referral to a range of community-based and inpatient services, including NEXUS, if clinically appropriate."
The mum's tireless fight for her son has prompted Shadow Mental Health Minister Tara Moriarty to write to Minister Bronwyn Taylor demanding better mental health services for Tamworth, a town which currently has no child and adolescent mental health wards at their hospital.
"More mental health services are needed in regional NSW so that young people … can get the support they need," the letter seen by the Daily Telegraph read.
Minister Taylor said no child or teenager will be turned away from clinically appropriate care.
"For some teenagers between the age of 16 and 18, a youth mental health service is not always appropriate, so they may be treated in adult care.
"In other cases the 16-18-year-old will be treated in the youth adolescent area. Expert clinicians make these decisions based on each individual case," she said.
Originally published as Family heartbreak: Suicidal regional teen was refused help