Services Must Include Dual Diagnosis

Mental health: 'Services must include dual diagnoses' By Marie-Louise Connolly BBC News NI Health Correspondent

Paul Fox's son, Aaron, died aged 16 after battling drug addiction and depression.

The father of a teenager who took his life following a battle with drugs and depression said plans to improve mental health services must include facilities for those with dual diagnoses.

Aaron Fox, from Belfast, was just 16 when he died suddenly in 2016.

He had been told by the authorities that he must quit drugs before getting help for his mental health problems.

His father, Paul, made the comments following a letter he had received from the chief medical officer.

The letter detailed plans for the introduction of a new integrated regional care and justice campus by 2022.

Mr Fox told the BBC that any new facility must address the needs of those who are not already patients within the health system.

"We have welcomed this move, it is a step in the right direction, but for me, it specifically needs to be acceptable for all and just not kids who are already known to the system," he said.

"Kids like Aaron, who at the very start asked for help, tried to get help for dual diagnosis and it just wasn't there."

Aaron Fox died suddenly in 2016, despite having asked for help

A dual diagnosis explains the mental health impact often experienced by people when taking drugs.

Aaron had asked for help but was told there was a waiting list and that he first must give up drugs.

At the time, Aaron's mother, Sarah, said it had been "horrendous" watching her son "self destruct" and she believed a secure unit could have saved his life.

In November 2018, the family met the chief medical officer, Dr Michael McBride, to pursue how facilities for young people could be improved.

Paul Fox received a letter from the chief medical officer detailing plans for a new integrated regional care and justice campus by 2022

Last month, in a letter to the family, and seen by the BBC, Dr Michael McBride said a specialist team made up of the Departments of Health and Justice had been established.

It was created to take forward the implementation of recommendations following the publication of the review of regional facilities for children and young people, published in 2018.

"The primary recommendation is the establishment of a new regional care and justice campus for Northern Ireland comprising Lakewood Secure Care Centre and the Juvenile Justice Centre at Woodlands," it said.

This is the first time such plans have been revealed.

A Department of Health spokesperson said a team has been tasked with delivering design proposals for the new campus by December 2019.

"Subject to the necessary approvals, a full public consultation on the proposals will be conducted in early 2020 and it is intended that the new campus will be in place by March 2022."

Mr Fox said young people looking for mental health support must be able to get it.

"It needs to be there immediately. For a young person to ask for help takes courage," he said.

"They reach out so the help must be immediate, you cannot lose that opportunity when a young person asks for help."

The SDLP's Nichola Mallon has said attempts to improve the system are just too slow.

"We have more people now who have been lost to suicide than have died during our Troubles," she said.

"If the same number of people had died on our roads, there would understandably be a huge public outcry and an urgent cross-departmental response.

"Yet, when it comes to mental health and addiction services for adults, and also for communities and young people, we aren't doing enough and not moving quickly enough and our young people are dying."

This new facility will cost additional money but it is not yet known where the money will come from.

Progress - National Consortium of Consultant Nurses in Dual Diagnosis & Substance Use