By: Olivia Carville

Warning: This article is about suicide and may be distressing for some readers.

The New Zealand Herald last week published an investigation into children in crisis as part of our special series on youth suicide, Break the Silence.

NZH found that 90 children a day are being referred to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (Camhs) – the public service for the most severe cases – and that the number has been growing.

NZH also found the number of children turned down by the service has been growing, with 1824 rejected or quickly referred on last year.

This was the third major investigation of the series, which is analysing why New Zealand has the worst teen suicide rate in the developed world and the second worst youth (25 and under) rate.

Throughout this series, we have published first-person pieces from individuals closely related to the issue and experts in the field. Today, Natalie Lanfear writes about her positive experience with Camhs, and how it helped her through her depression and anxiety. In her own words:

From the age of 14 I experienced anxiety. Not the usual sort of teenage angst and worry – this was crippling and controlling. I couldn’t do simple everyday things like homework and hanging out with friends. I missed a lot of school and had to postpone my NCEA Level Two. Anxiety spiralled into depression.

I knew every trick in the book to cover up my mental illness and I pretended everything was sweet. Covering up only made things worse and bad days turned into bad months.

Deep down I knew that something wasn’t right, but it took me a long time to accept that what I was experiencing was a mental illness and I needed help.

Leaving the house, let alone talking to a stranger, felt incredibly daunting. I had only heard bad stories about mental health services and I didn’t want to be seen as “that girl”. I felt ashamed. But I was desperate and running out of options.

I first reached out to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (Camhs) community mental health and addiction service when I was 17. I’d been admitted to hospital following a sports-related head injury. I was coming to terms with healing physically, but I needed to heal mentally too.

I got help from an occupational therapist to get me back into school and I worked with a counsellor. For me, counselling was a neutral playing field. It was a supportive space where I could develop the tools and knowledge that got me through an intense period of mental distress and now helps me to live well.

The best help I got was from a Camhs service that supports families with a loved one in mental distress. My family had a space to talk about their worries and they were given the tools to best help me. I am incredibly grateful to have had such a supportive network of family and friends who walked alongside me as I got professional help.

I want young people to know that help is out there. If I hadn’t used Camhs, my road to recovery would have taken much longer. Reaching out for help was the best thing I could have done.

But I’ll be honest, you need to fight for the help that you deserve. It may seem like you’re having to jump through a lot of hoops to get there. There are waiting lists, the task of finding a counsellor who gets you and the wait time between appointments.

I get that it’s frustrating when you feel you’re not being heard and I believe there are improvements to be made, but don’t be afraid to keep asking for help until you get what you need. Please persevere because you deserve help and it will make a difference for you.

At 23, I have been living well with anxiety and I’ve been in recovery for two years. It’s been a tough journey and it hasn’t been smooth sailing. But my experience with mental illness is a part of my life and it has shaped who I am today.

In a couple of weeks, I am heading to London to attend the United Nations’ World Merit 360 conference. I’m joining 359 others from around the world to make a plan to develop sustainable good health and wellbeing for everyone. It’s an incredible honour to be invited and I’m excited for this opportunity to make a real difference in the world.

• Support Youthline by donating via youthline.co.nz/breakthesilence.

WHERE TO GET HELP:

If you are worried about your or someone else’s mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call 111.

If you need to talk to someone, the following free helplines operate 24/7:

DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757
LIFELINE: 0800 543 354
NEED TO TALK? Call or text 1737
SAMARITANS: 0800 726 666
YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633 or text 234

There are lots of places to get support. For others, click here.

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