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SPECIAL REPORT: Derbyshire mum calls for change nearly a year after her beloved son took his own life

Susan Cheetham with her son Jacob Bates in happier times. Picture submitted.
Susan Cheetham with her son Jacob Bates in happier times. Picture submitted.

The mother of a much-loved teenager who took his own life has called for more early intervention and support to help children who are suffering with mental illness.

On July 15 last year, Jacob Bates left a suicide note in his bedroom before going to Walton dam in Chesterfield where he tragically passed away.

Much-loved Jacob Bates. Picture submitted.

Much-loved Jacob Bates. Picture submitted.

Jacob - who struggled with a number of mental health problems since being diagnosed with autism at the age of 14 - was just 17-years-old.

Today, in a heartbreaking account for the Derbyshire Times, his mother Susan Cheetham told how her child was 'put through hell' and 'felt he would never amount to anything'.

She said: "My son's first hospital admission was in Leicester and his longest admission was in Northampton - always many miles from home. This caused him so much distress. All he wanted was to be at home with his mum.

"His illness meant he was treated like a criminal. For three months he was placed in a boys’ prison by social care. Not for any crime, simply for being a danger to himself.

Susan Cheetham with her son Jacob Bates in happier times. Picture submitted.

Susan Cheetham with her son Jacob Bates in happier times. Picture submitted.

"Our story is beyond belief and the damage that was done to my child during these admissions was unforgivable.

"My innocent little autistic boy who was struggling so badly was ripped from his family, institutionalised and had his childhood stolen while he became someone we didn't even know. His illness went from bad to worse to shocking.

"I now have to spend every day living with the guilt of letting professionals make stupid decisions and putting my child through hell.

"If I'd known what I knew now I would have left the country with my son and he would still be alive now.

"My experience is that there is no inbetween. You are either given next to no community support to help care for your child with their illness - or you have your child stolen and you become totally unimportant.

"Child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) work on a tier system and to reach the higher tiers will only happen once crisis has hit. It's almost like not treating cancer until it hits stage three.

"It's time education and health worked together to step in with fuller community support packages at early stages to keep our children supported and safe.

"I totally understand that people of any age can hide mental illness but the signs are often available yet little to no support is on offer until something terrible happens.

"Surely early intervention is the way forward to help our children who are suffering?

"Letting the illness become out of control and then shipping our kids miles away from home, placing them in a false environment and starving them of their family and friends when they need them the most is not the answer. Yet it seems it’s the only option as no one wants the responsibility of the risk involved so this risk is just given to a hospital instead. The hospitals don’t treat the children, they are just holding grounds where they are given endless amounts of medication.

"We don't treat other poorly children this way so why in 2018 is mental illness still treated with so little understanding and respect?

"My son's care went from full on restricted admission for years to pretty much no support whatsoever.

"The fear of going back into hospital or the prison haunted him.

"He didn't get to take his GCSEs like a normal teenager and felt with no qualifications he would never get a job.

"He just couldn't cope with the 'normal world' he had been locked away from and felt he would never amount to anything.

"His life was taken in July 2017 at the age of just 17 and now my 'normal world' will never be the same again."

Susan remembers her boy - who would have turned 18 earlier this year - as 'caring, thoughtful and friendly'.

Chesterfield mother Nicola Gilbert is setting up a support group for parents of children with mental health problems.

Nicola's child was recently referred to CAMHS.

She said she found the process 'extremely frustrating' - only to find at the end that her child does not meet the criteria for support.

Chesterfield MP Toby Perkins said: "I have been in contact with CAMHS on Nicola's behalf and I was disappointed to see that there was very little support available.

"During this challenging time for children’s mental health services I think it is important that support is available for parents and I support Nicola in providing further support for other parents."

For more information about the support group, contact Nicola by emailing SpaceEmpowers@gmail.com or visit this Facebook page she has set up.

'We are continuing to review and improve our services'

A spokesperson for Chesterfield Royal Hospital NHS Foundation Trust said: "Our condolences and sympathies remain with Jacob’s mother Susan and her family almost a year after his death.

"As a provider of CAMHS, Chesterfield Royal Hospital NHS Foundation Trust fully supports closer partnership working to help children from an early age. The Government's national initiative to improve mental health support within schools is a positive step that we look forward to seeing develop. We already have advisers working out in the community to provide support to those working with young people - and we would welcome an opportunity to increase this sort of liaison between schools and the NHS.

"We have continued to strengthen the care and treatment we can offer to young people who have proved hard to engage - and for whom regular CAMHS interventions have not offered a solution. This includes a dialectical behaviour therapy team. This intensive treatment can be effective for people who, for example, experience intensive emotion, repeatedly self-harm or consider suicide, have experienced severe trauma or have a borderline personality disorder.

"We hope the fact we are continuing to review and improve our services offers some small comfort to Susan and her family as they continue to deal with the loss of Jacob. We also wish Nicola all the best for her support group, which will undoubtedly help other parents and families."

A spokesperson for the Derbyshire Safeguarding Children Board said: "The death of any child or young person is a terrible tragedy and our sympathies are very much with Jacob's family and friends for their loss.

"The board did consider the circumstances of Jacob’s case, but it did not meet the statutory requirements for a formal review. Nevertheless, there has been an examination of information sharing practice between agencies involved in his care and it is clear that professionals did work hard to try and provide appropriate help to him and his family.

"The board has also engaged directly with Mrs Cheetham, who has shared her experiences as part of learning events for professionals from a range of agencies working with young people."

An NHS spokesperson added: "See your GP if you’ve been feeling depressed for more than a few weeks or your anxiety is affecting your daily life.

"If you want to talk to someone right away, this mental health helpline page has a list of organisations you can call for immediate help.

"The Samaritans helpline is free and available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year for people who want to talk in confidence. Call 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org

"If you've had thoughts of self-harming or are feeling suicidal, contact someone you can trust immediately, such as your GP or a friend or relative."