Edie-lee Wilkinson is a Crime Scene Officer with the Broken Hill Police.
Traumatic scenes are her business, and one gets the impression she can cope with most outrages the world throws her way.
But there’s a situation at home that not even Edie-lee can handle; her nine-year-old daughter is losing her grip and in desperate need of psychiatric help.
Problem is, there isn’t any.
For two years, Edie-lee has struggled with a mental health system so under-funded that she’s basically been told to come back when her daughter is either suicidal or has threatened to kill someone else.
“They’re still holding that line,” says Edie-lee. “She’s got to be close to suicide before they’ll see her. Or homicide – threat of suicide or homicide, is what we’re dealing with.
“Now, I understand why they’re doing that – apparently there’s only one psychiatrist in the whole of Broken Hill, so they must have a threshold. But it means we can’t get help until the situation becomes tragic. That’s not good enough.”
Edie-lee noticed problems with her daughter three years ago, shortly after the little girl started school. While an excellent student, she had trouble moving from one task to another, had “meltdowns” when getting dressed in the mornings, became stressed when other children wouldn’t do exactly as she wished and exhibited physical tics when anxious – flapping her arms, spinning, walking on the balls of her feet.
Because anxiety issues run in the family (“she was never going to escape it”), Edie-lee knew what she had to do.
“It was about two years ago when we actively sought help,” says Edie-lee.
“We started with some counsellors at CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services). They quickly saw that there were some behavioural issues, possibly ASD (autism spectrum disorder), and suggested that we connect with the psychiatrist to see if we could get an assessment done.”
Then came COVID, meaning all appointments were conducted through telehealth.
“Obviously, ASD is a difficult one to do through telehealth – they really need to be physically in the room with the child to see how the child interacts.
“Also, girls are notoriously difficult to diagnose because they’re very, very good at hiding things.”
The psychiatrist said he couldn’t finalise a diagnosis while unable to meet the little girl face-to-face, effectively ending the support CAMHS might have provided for Edie-lee and her child.
Since then, Edie-lee has been navigating through a maze that always comes to the same dead end: a lack of visiting psychologists due to COVID border closures means a waiting time of at least 12 months; a referral to an Occupational Therapist at the hospital has placed her on a two-year waiting list; Royal Far West, the Sydney-based charity, has offered to help … in 12 to 18 months; and an Adelaide private health clinic Edie-lee approached said it would cost thousands, once the soonest appointment became available in the later part of next year.
Meanwhile, Edie-lee’s little girl is getting worse, her snowballing anxiety becoming physically sickening.
“It manifests into physical illnesses, with tummy pains and nausea and even to a point of vomiting and crying,” says Edie-lee. “And she doesn’t understand that it’s the anxiety – she thinks she’s suffering from a physical illness.”
In desperation, Edie-lee last week approached CAMHS again, believing the lifting of COVID restrictions might mean her daughter can resume seeing the psychiatrist she began with two years ago. The answer was crushing.
“I was told that she no longer meets the threshold, because they are only taking on serious, acute-level children.”
In other words, Edie-lee’s little girl must become suicidal before she’ll be treated.
A spokesperson for the Far West Local Health District confirms CAMHS “has been in contact with the family to direct them to services that meet the needs of the individual”.
But Edie-lee says CAMHS simply directed her to CatholicCare, a service which, being staffed by neither psychiatrists nor psychologists, can only do so much.
“Their counsellors do the best they can with the skills that they’ve got,” says Edie-lee. “But even the lady who comes to the school to see Alice has said, ‘We can’t provide the care she needs.’ And they’re very frustrated because she’s not the only one.”
Edie-lee’s plight has come to the attention of Broken Hill Mayor Darriea Turley, who will be taking Edie-lee’s story to the State Government’s Rural Health Inquiry next month.
“This is what we always have to fight for in the Far West,” Mayor Turley told Barrier Truth.
“We need more funding and resources, constantly. This little girl’s story is just so tragic, and, unfortunately, too common in the regions.”
But any political help can only be in the future, and, for Edie-lee and her little girl, time is running out as that “threshold” approaches.
“She overheard me speaking about CAMHS and suicide,” she says. “I didn’t know she’d overheard me – I tried not to have that happen – but she did. And she wanted to talk to me about it.”
Edie-lee explained as best she could about how some children, sometimes, feel so sad they’d rather sleep, and that the doctors are there to help them feel happy again.
“She said, ‘But they’re not going to tell their mum and dad, so how will people know that they’re feeling this way?’”
Edie-lee, so drilled at dealing with trauma, is crying now.
“‘And she said, ‘How can they help them, mum? I don’t think they can’.”
If you or someone you know needs help call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
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