Caitlin Newdall was 12 she first tried to kill herself. Now 15 she is telling her story to raise awareness of children’s mental health. Catherine Scott meets her
On the outside Caitlin Newdall seems to have it all. She comes from a good home in a smart area of Leeds, loving parents, private education and nice holidays. She is pretty, eloquent, sporty and doing well at school. Yet behind her smiling face lays a tormented child who tried to take her own life three times by the age of 15.
“I was 12 when I first started feeling mixed emotions. I felt sad and lost and very alone,” says Caitlin, who is bravely speaking out in a bid to raise awareness of the issue blighting many of our teenagers’ lives. “I knew what I was feeling was different from other people my age but I tried to push it to the back of my mind and convince myself it was just teenage hormones.” The feelings came and went for months but in the end they overwhelmed her.
“It was then I began to cut,” says Caitlin. “People turn to various things when they are upset to make them feel better. I tried everything but self harming was the only way I could find some sort of release from how I felt.” Eventually Caitlin told her mum what she was doing.
“She was really understanding. We went to the doctors to try to find out why I was feeling this way.” But the GP told them that there was very little she could do.
“She said the waiting list for CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) was eight months and the emergency waiting list was three months,” says Caitlin’s mum Amanda. “I told her that I was very worried about Caitlin and I was worried what she would do next. She suggested we get help ourselves by going private. I couldn’t believe it.” The following weekend the family went away to celebrate Amanda’s birthday.
“I tried to put on a brave face but inside I was feeling really helpless. I just didn’t know what was wrong with me. I felt that no one was listening to me or going to be able to help me.” The night they returned Caitlin took an overdose of paracetamol - enough to kill a child of her size. She was 12 years old.
“I wrote a note to my parents telling them not to blame themselves, that it was me and not them.” Despite the amount of tablets she had taken her sister Sophie managed to wake her for school. “I suddenly realised what I had done. I quickly hid the note and got ready for school. But on the bus I started to feel terrible and realised I had to tell someone what I’d done. I was very, very frightened.” Once at school she told a member of staff.
“I don’t think she took me seriously. She called a taxi and took me to hospital.” Even when she got to hospital Caitlin felt that no one was listening to her. It was only when the doctors did blood tests that they realised the severity of the situation and the danger Caitlin was in.
“Suddenly everything kicked off. I was put on a drip which made me really, really sick. I felt shamed by what I’d done and really regretted it.” Caitlin was admitted to hospital but there was no children’s psychiatric ward so she was put on a ward for children with head injuries.
“It was terrible. Physically I was okay after a day but mentally I was still very fragile. I was given a counsellor and allowed home after four days, but I didn’t see a psychiatrist for two weeks and when I did he said I didn’t have depression - he said I had low mood and what I was feeling was normal. That just made me feel worse. I thought if this was normal then I just couldn’t continue.” In January last year Caitlin attempted to take her life for a second time.
“I had started self harming again and I told my psychiatrist that I felt that I wasn’t safe at home and needed to be admitted somewhere for my own safety but he said that wasn’t appropriate. He didn’t even tell my dad what I had said. I just couldn’t cope and so I took another overdose.” But this time she regretted it immediately and told her mum. “I was rushed to hospital again and all those feelings came flooding back. I just wanted my emotions to stop and for someone to take me seriously and help me.” Again there was no suitable psychiatric ward for Caitlin at Leeds General Infirmary so she was put on a children’s cancer ward.
“There just aren’t any beds for teenagers with mental health problems. ” Eventually after a third suicide attempt Caitlin received a diagnosis and the help she craved.
“Mum said to show more emotion when I went to my psychiatrist and so I cried, once I started crying I just couldn’t stop. He diagnosed me with depression and anxiety.”
“I think they saw an eloquent family, who weren’t under social services and thought we could cope,” says Amanda, “But we felt helpless. Mental illness doesn’t discriminate, it doesn’t matter what background you come from.” Caitlin was prescribed antidepressants and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). “The antidepressants level out my moods and the CBT is giving me strategies to cope when I feel low and would normally start to self harm. It is really helping, I have started to go out with my friends, to think about the future, about my upcoming GCSEs, A Levels and even going to university. I want to be a doctor or a psychologist after everything I have been through.”
Caitlin now wants to raise awareness of mental health issues particularly among young people. Last year she wrote an emotional post on Facebook and was shocked by the response.
“I wasn’t sure how people would react but the response from other teenagers and parents has been amazing. Many have said they feel the same as me and that what I had written really helped them.”
Caitlin is organising a Race Night at the Engine Shed in Wetherby on March 5. “I want to raise money for the charity YoungMinds. I also want to tell people it is okay to talk about mental illness and above all to urge anyone who is having feelings they don’t understand to tell someone they trust, anyone and make sure they listen.”
One in Four young people in the UK have suicidal thoughts
ChildLine (UK) held 34,517 counselling sessions in 2013/14 with children who talked about suicide – a 116 percent increase since 2010/11
Rates of depression and anxiety among teenagers have increased by 70 per cent in 25 years.
Around 25 per cent of young people self-harm on one occasion, mostly by cutting.
Between 2001 and 2011 hospital admissions for young people who self-harm increased by 68 per cent
Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week runs until Feb 12
For more on the charity race night call 07720892119