Four heartbreaking words revealed six-year-old Briena’s torment as she told her mum: “I want to die.”
The depressed schoolgirl then added: “I don’t want to be here any more. Nobody loves me.”
Mum Nikki could only hold Briena tight and reassure her she was safe – and loved.
It was the start of a hellish journey which climaxed four years later when Briena tried to throw herself out of her bedroom window.
Distraught Nikki and husband Lee describe holding their girl tightly through the night, pleading: “Don’t do this. Please stay.”
For months, Briena slept in their room. Now, aged 11 and a year after her suicide bid, they keep a baby monitor in her room.
Briena struggles with severe depression, anxiety and panic attacks. And her plight is captured in a Channel 4 series which shines a light on Britain’s cash-strapped NHS mental health services.
Suicide rates in young girls have risen 84 per cent in six years and the family want to raise awareness.
Nikki, 40, and estate agent Lee, 42, fought for years to get help for Briena but were repeatedly told her age meant she was not at risk.
There were countless trips to the GP and A&E and the parents lost track of how many times they asked for help. Nikki, who works with children, says: “It was heartbreaking.
“Briena told me she didn’t want to be alive and she meant it. I could see she was hurting. I remember thinking, ‘She’s six, this isn’t right’.
“She said she felt she was in a deep, dark pit alone and didn’t know how to get out. I held her tightly and pleaded with her, ‘Don’t leave me. Don’t do this. You’re safe, we love you’.”
Briena reveals the urge to end her life was unbearably strong. She says: “I wanted to be with my mum and dad, but I also wanted to die, to get away from all of the bad stuff. Life was horrible. Nothing seemed fun, it was a horrible, heavy feeling. I wanted it to be over and the only way I could see it was ending it all.
“I sometimes felt really low and sad, sometimes I felt really angry and other times I felt really anxious. Sometimes I’d feel them all at once. It was overwhelming.”
Aged six, Briena was referred to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) in Farnborough, Hants. But Nikki recalls: “We got a phone call and they said, ‘She is too young, she’s not a concern because she has always got somebody with her, so she’s not at risk.’ Unless she was a teenager stood on a bridge threatening to jump, there’s not much they can do.
“But I don’t want her to get to the point of being on a bridge. I said ‘I want it sorted now’. They just don’t have resources. There’s no help.”
The family moved to Nottingham and Briena was repeatedly referred to CAMHS over the next four years.
“I felt angry, because I didn’t see why the doctors couldn’t help,” Briena says. “I felt a bit rejected, like they didn’t want to help me.”
Last year, things got so bad that she began suffering violent seizures, triggered by her overwhelming emotions and panic attacks. She had time off school and was spiralling further into a deep depression.
It took the suicide attempt and three trips to A&E in a week last July for the family to finally access the help they needed to get Briena a diagnosis.
Nikki says: “Briena began hurting herself – she would bite herself a lot, bang her head, pull her clothes, scratch herself, pull her hair.
“We were in crisis. I couldn’t take any more. She was sleeping in our room so we could keep her safe. It was torturous. I feared we were going to lose her. One night, she was on our bed and she was fighting us to throw herself out of the window. I was holding her and Lee was on the phone to the crisis team.
“Every time I’d loosen my grip, she’d throw herself towards the window and lurch forward.
“I was crying, Briena was beside herself, Lee was on the phone and I thought, ‘What can we do?’ I couldn’t take it any more.” Lee adds: “We felt we had to watch her around the clock. Even now, if she’s had a bad day, we put a baby monitor in her room, to make sure she’s safe through the night.”
The family’s final trip to A&E was filmed by Channel 4. And back under the care of CAMHS, Briena was finally diagnosed with autism last August.
It was a huge relief for Briena, Nikki, Lee and their three other daughters, aged 17, nine and six. It led to more support – and Briena says her new school has helped too.
She explains: “I used to feel like everyone was a jigsaw puzzle and I was the piece that didn’t fit. I feel better now I’ve got more of an answer. At school there is a sensory room and if I feel stressed I go in there.
“There’s a projector that projects stars, beanbags, a fluffy carpet and a tent. My friends help if I’m feeling bad. The teachers are good too. I still have panic attacks sometimes.
“All I can think is, ‘Make it stop, make it stop.’ But I can’t control it. I still have good days and bad days.”
Briena’s story comes as figures from the Education Policy Institute estimate that one in four children referred to specialist services – more than 130,000 – were “rejected”.
Some 25,000 young people a year go to A&E with mental health issues.
And the Royal College of Psychiatrists says that while mental health funding is officially at record levels it is down in real terms since 2012.
Nottingham NHS Trust acknowledged delays in Briena getting care. A spokesman said: “When it became clear Briena needed more intensive support that was put in place.
“We took part in the documentary to show the difficult decisions that staff make with limited resources and an increase in demand.”
- Losing It: Our Mental Health Emergency is on Channel 4 at 10pm on Tuesday
The Samaritans is available 24/7 if you need to talk. You can contact them for free by calling 116 123, email [email protected] or head to the website to find your nearest branch. You matter.
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