West Midlands dad battles for mental health reform after son takes his own life

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Robert Collins, born in Erdington, says current laws are “not fit for purpose”

A dad who tragically lost his son to suicide is battling for a change to early intervention laws surrounding mental health.

Robert Collins, 50, born in Erdington, woke up on Easter morning to the tragedy of his own son’s suicide. He says that current laws are “not fit for purpose” and a change is needed.

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He is now fighting, under the name of his son Mitch, for an update on mental health policy which would allow schools and charities to intervene before a child falls into crisis. A petition for a change to the law started by Robert at change.org now has over 13,000 signatures.

Robert Collins is battling for mental health reform after his son Mitch took his own lifeRobert Collins is battling for mental health reform after his son Mitch took his own life
Robert Collins is battling for mental health reform after his son Mitch took his own life | LDRS

What has Robert said about his campaign in his own words?

Robert said: “By standing on over 1,000 doorsteps I’m hearing the same thing over and over again and that is that Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) can’t meet the criteria. The problem is the bar is set that high, and CAMHS have actually admitted it.

“They admitted it’s that high because they can’t deal with the amount of referrals that the doctors are putting through. That’s criminal really and Parliament needs to sort this out.

“They’re not fit for purpose. Personally, I’ve got horror stories about them.” Through Mitch’s law, named after his son, he is hoping to make a change to when and how governments and charities can intervene.

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Robert, who now lives in Bromsgrove, continued: “The money can be used to support charities, local to the area where the schools are so they can come in with early intervention to prevent a kid or a young person getting into crisis in the first place. So it’s about early intervention.

“I think the run-off from it is, if that could be done that would ease the pressure on Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS)- because they’re already overstretched.

“The bar at the moment is currently so high for cases to be taken on by CAMHS that a young person who is broken has already gone into crisis rather than being seen early to stop them getting into crisis.”

Mitch CollinsMitch Collins
Mitch Collins | LDRS

What have other organisations said about mental health support in Birmngham?

A report in 2021 by Healthwatch Birmingham raised serious concerns around mental health support for young people in Birmingham. Every child and young person surveyed said they were not satisfied with support offered post-referral and 93 per cent said they were unhappy with signposting to other services.

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In a follow-up interview with the Local Democracy reporting service, Dr Chipiliro Kalebe-Nyamongo, Research and Policy Manager, Healthwatch Birmingham said: “We have as a city an increasing and diverse population, higher than average levels of deprivation, child poverty and homelessness.

“The impact of an impoverished childhood on emotional health and well-being, resilience and illness among children and young people in Birmingham is significant. Add Covid-19 – the demand on services is high.

In some of the issues we heard, it is clear that you have on the one hand increasing demand and on the other inadequate funding.

Birmingham City Council HouseBirmingham City Council House
Birmingham City Council House | LDRs

Dr Kalebe-Nyamongo also called for the local government in Birmingham to do more.

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She added: “We know that the pandemic has increased demand on mental health services in Birmingham, for both adults and young people. This, in addition to a growing population, requires more resources rather than less.

“As our study found long waiting times from referral to assessments impact the ability of the service to intervene early, thereby failing to prevent deterioration in the mental health of some young people. Without adequate resources, we will see many young people needing more complex support as they deteriorate due to a lack of support.

“Local councils can invest in programs that support their citizens to transition through the different life stages – thus they can provide support to community organisations, charities, sporting clubs, schools etc.”

In a letter to Gillian Keegan, Minister for care and mental health, Labour Councillor Sharon Thompson cited some shocking figures. She said: “Figures suggest that for every welfare secure bed in this country there are 50 children in need of that bed. In Birmingham, we are working with partners in the NHS to come up with a creative and safe alternative model.”

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