'She should be with us, she should have been helped' - Parents of Milly Tuomey (11) who died by suicide
The parents of an 11-year-old girl who died by suicide in 2016 have said that young people need better access to mental health services and called for urgent change to crisis services.
Milly made a lethal attempt at self-harm on New Year's Day, 2016. She died four days later at Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital in Crumlin.
Speaking on RTE's The Big Picture on Thursday, Milly's parents - Fiona and Tim Tuomey - explained how they felt their daughter had been let down by the lack of an urgent response from their local mental health services.
Her parents said life for young Milly had been going well until the family returned to Ireland in 2015, after living in Switzerland for a few years.
"She was going through puberty. She was becoming more conscious of her body. We would try to reassure her but she was more aware of what she saw as the flaws in herself," said Tim.
In November 2015, Milly posted on Instagram the day she wished to die.
"You immediately think it must be something external, something must have happened. Were you bullied? Did somebody hurt you? You go through every horror scenario in your head to try unearth what could possibly bring your child to a situation where they no longer want to be here," her mother Fiona added.
One month later, her mental health had deteriorated further. On December 8, her GP sent an urgent referral letter to the HSE's Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) centre; an in-patient specialist service that provides support and treatment to young people and their families.
The letter outlined that Milly was feeling low, saying she would like to die and had talked to her mum about self-harm and suicide. It called for an urgent assessment.
The Tuomey family received a response from their nearest CAMHS advising them that the next available appointment for Milly was scheduled for January 5, 2016.
"The referral was detailed as an 'urgent referral' but it took four weeks from being given that to the actual appointment date," said Tim.
On December 15, the family received forms from CAMHS that they were required to fill out. Fiona then hand-delivered them to the CAMHS office on December 22, 2015. Extracts from the questionnaire offered an insight into the state of Millly's mental health. Handwritten words from the young girl revealed that she couldn't get her mind off suicide.
Fiona Tuomey, mother of Milly Tuomey, who died by suicide aged 11, says she is devastated by the fact that geography now comes into play whether your child lives or dies.#RTEBigPic pic.twitter.com/MMJaiCQGhM— RTE One (@RTEOne) April 26, 2018
"I had wrongly assumed that these forms, in addition to the info they had already received from the GP and the fact that we had an urgent referral, I assumed that these forms would further throw up any potential alarm bells and would lead to an action if needed prior to our appointment," said Fiona.
"That was incorrect on our part. Nothing happened. We did not hear from CAMHS at all after that. We subsequently found out that these forms were sitting in an in-tray for seven days."
That Christmas the parents found Milly in mixed form. Tim said that at times Milly was quiet, but other times she wasn't. It was hard for her parents to gauge a true insight into the state her mental wellbeing.
"It's one of the clichés of mental health; someone who is expressing suicidal thoughts or self-harming thoughts has to be in a constant state of deep depression but Milly wasn't like that," said Tim.
"There were lots of occasions where she seemed absolutely normal, completely normal... singing. When she sang you would be more comforted, when she laughed, when she joked, when she was looking forward to things, you felt a little bit more relief."
Recalling the day that Milly took her own life, her mother Fiona said it had been a "miserable day".
"It was one of those typical Irish grey days. We were watching a movie as a family. And Milly said she was bored, so she left. She said she was going up to play her piano. Not long after that her sister decided she didn't want to watch the movie so she left as well.
"In that short space of time, Milly had taken her life. There is one life that existed before Milly's death and there's this life. We have another child to love and care for but the life we had died with Milly," said Fiona.
Tim added: "There's a level of pain that is very hard to describe, [it's like being] haunted. I throw myself into my work. I have times of being numb. During the numb times I feel that it has gone, moved into a lesser state of grief, I want the pain back and then the pain comes back every time."
The Tuomeys said that Milly's death has left them with a lot of questions, many 'what ifs?'. They often wonder what life would be like now if Milly had received an urgent referral, as requested.
"We firmly believe that she should be here. She should be with us. She should have been helped. We'll never blame anyone as much as ourselves but we needed help and I don't feel we got it," said Tim.
The family said that youth mental health services in Ireland are in need of urgent change, especially in the area of crisis support.
"We had an urgent referral for CAMHS and that urgent referral took four weeks. We were worried about our daughter every day that something was going to happen. To get an appointment that's urgent, that takes four weeks, was four weeks where something could happen and in our case it did," said Tim.
Her mother added: "We need better resources and that means people sitting up and taking action. If there isn't a change in the way things are our story is going to continue in another family, in another home, in another loved one."
There are currently 69 CAMHS centres in Ireland. The HSE aims to increase the number of centres to 99. A number of those CAMHS centres in operation do not have a consultant psychiatrist onsite.
It was revealed on The Big Picutre that the HSE isn't measuring the CAMHS response rates.
Minister of State for Mental Health, Jim Daly, said that he wants to introduce a 72-hour response rate within CAMHS. He also said that response figures should be made available.
Minister Daly also said that he hopes to introduce a single phone number to deal with mental health calls, similar to the 999 emergency services number.
The Tuomeys' CAMHS service told RTE that the forms filled out by Milly's parents weren't used as part of the referral process. They also said that they were dealing with an increase in self-harming related referrals at the time.
Independent.ie have reached out to the HSE for further comment.
If you have been affected by the issues above contact:
Samaritans: 116 123
Pieta House: 1800 247 247 or text HELP to 5144
Bodywhys: 1890 200444
Childline: 1800 666666 or text TALK to 50101