Doctor Advises Teen To Keep Self-Harming Until She Qualifies For Care

A depressed teen who self-harms was told to continue cutting herself until she was old enough to qualify for mental health care, her parents claim.

England's National Health Service logo.

A 17-year-old from Bridgend, Wales, was denied mental health care because she’s not old enough to access England’s public health care system.

And what’s worse, her doctor told her to “carry on cutting” herself so she could get the help she needs when she's 18.

Jade Norris’ mother, Dawn Norris, and stepfather, Ben Garnham, were reportedly told that their daughter, who self-harms, had to wait until she's 18 to get medical attention and that until then, she should keep hurting herself.

This is horrific advice, especially considering that the girl has already tried to take her own life. But it's even more shocking when you consider she is in a “limbo” age category that makes her too old to get child mental health care and too young to be seen by an adult mental health professional, according to her parents.

Norris' mom told reporters that without access to care, they are worried, as their child suffers from depression and often hears voices telling her to kill herself.

“The [general practitioner] told us as long as she isn’t ‘cutting herself to death’” she should go on self-harming until she can see a doctor, Dawn Norris said.

“What they told us was unbelievable — it’s madness,” the distressed mom said.

“They basically told us that we have to ‘learn to cope’ with what Jade does,” she added.

Feeling disappointed, the family filed a formal complaint to Oak Tree Surgery, and the doctor responded with a two-page letter.

“I am sorry if the way I discussed the issues with Jade led you to believe that I thought her problems were incurable or that self-harm is OK,” the letter read. “Self-harm can be dangerous, and I discussed how this can be a risk-factor in more serious harm; but that for the time being Jade was practicing this in a low risk way.”

In a statement, the clinic added they were “sorry.”

“We are sorry that Jade and her family were unhappy with her treatment at the practice, but we are limited in what we can say due to patient confidentiality,” they said.

The couple told reporters that the girl failed to develop socially at the same rate as her peers and that they believe the girl has autism.

While the teen has been diagnosed with a speech impairment in the past, child mental health professionals never diagnosed her with autism. That, the couple stated, is making it difficult for their child to get proper care.

“Jade has been fobbed off too many times with the excuse that there are no services available for her until she turns 18,” Garnham said. “She doesn’t turn 18 until next May, and her self-harming has been going on for the last four years and is getting worse.”

“If she were to kill herself between now and then, who will be accountable?” the heartbroken stepfather asked.

After being bullied at the age of 13, Norris started to self-harm, her parents explained. They have since then tried to do everything in their power to help her.

After child health care specialists were unable to help, the couple tried a general practitioner, who sent them back to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), where doctors told them to get counseling through her college. Unfortunately, the parents told reporters, the school discontinued the sessions.

“Then we went back to the [general practitioner] and were referred to CAMHS again. It’s just a vicious circle, and we’re not getting anywhere with it,” Garnham said.

“We’re so worried and frustrated. We believe Jade needs proper psychiatric care. We just want to get her some help; we’re desperate,” he added.

Knowing that their daughter is not the only one suffering because of the health care system’s inefficiency, the couple said they want the government to act.

“Something needs to change with the whole mental health system. All we want is to be helped. Not just for Jade’s sake, but for all those out there who are suffering the same,” Garnham said.

It’s simply despicable that a health care organization would treat a teenager like Norris this way, encouraging the child to continue harming herself until she can get help from a different doctor.

Norris’ family is taking the right steps by pressuring officials to look into implementing change so that other teens don't have to suffer like she has. 

Banner and thumbnail image credit: Flickr user julien haler

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