Axminster mum reveals heartbreak of daughter’s death wish

Debbie Humberstone’s inspiring tale of family’s journey to hell and back

“JUST let me die mum”.

That was an Axminster teenager’s terrible plea that will live with Debbie Humberstone forever.

“It was the most heartbreaking and devastating moment of my life – a true moment of despair,” she recalls.

Debbie, a school administrator, was speaking at the unveiling of Plym Bridge House – Devon’s new adolescent psychiatric unit which she was invited to open.

And she took the opportunity to speak frankly and openly about how the team, at their former nearby Cothele centre, helped her teenage daughter Jess overcome a “shocking and terrifying” illness that nearly cost her life.

It is inspiring story and one she hopes will bring comfort and hope to others, both young patients and their families.

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This is part of what she told them:

“Nothing prepares you for your child being affected by a mental illness. There is nothing in the parenting manuals that can help you to understand and cope with the total change that comes over someone once they are in the grips of such an illness. I can only describe it as truly shocking, terrifying ... and utterly bewildering.

“In the early part of 2009, Jess was, seemingly, your average 15-year- old – an attractive, popular, bright girl, with many friends and a prediction of good grades at GCSE. Whilst not a confident girl, Jess lived a full life and was involved with a couple of local drama groups, played the saxophone, and was a member of the local swimming club. And then something changed ...

“In the months that followed, Jess became crippled by a total lack of confidence - in herself as a person, her abilities, her appearance, her reason for being. She developed issues with food, began self harming on a daily basis, and her anxiety levels were such that attending school became all but impossible. She was depressed, rarely leaving her room, cutting herself off from her friends and everything that had previously made up her life. “It was during this time, as Jess began a frighteningly rapid decline, that she was first seen by a Community Psychiatric Nurse (CPN) from the East Devon CAMHS team, at the end of July 2009. Despite her CPN’s best efforts, Jess continued to decline to the point where she could no longer give assurances of her safety.

“On her 16th birthday she was first seen by the psychiatrist in Exeter, and after a couple of follow up appointments, she was admitted to Coetzee.

“Jess honestly believed that my life, and that of the rest of her family, would be better without her. She had reached a point where she could no longer see any reason to be alive. She could no longer cope with the emotional pain she felt inside, being her. She regarded herself as utterly pointless, disgusting and worthless, and that the world must surely be better off without her.

“What do you do when your beautiful teenage daughter says to you, “if you love me mum, just let me die”? That was, beyond all doubt, the most heartbreaking and devastating moment of my life - and true moment of despair, and one which will remain with me forever.

“I am honestly not sure whether my daughter would be alive today if she hadn’t been admitted. She had given up wanting to live, and every day was a constant struggle to keep her from doing herself serious harm.

“When I left Jess at Cothele, we had no idea what to expect. We all thought she’d only be in a few weeks. In the end it was five months before she finally came home, in April last year.”

Now jess has passed eight GCSEs and gone on to Exeter College where she is just completing the first year of an Advanced Diploma in Health and Social Care.

Added Debbie: . Things are still very tough at times, but I only have to remind myself of how bad things were to see just how much progress Jess has made. I don’t think she can always see just how far she has come.

“Jess is now involved in the Camas’s Young People’s Advisory Group in Exeter, who give feedback on their experiences of the service, and look at possible changes for the future. She also set up a Face book group in the run up to Self Injury Awareness Day to help raise awareness of self harm, and to help try to dispel some of the misunderstandings and stigma associated with it.

“I feel that my experiences of caring for Jess, and the journey I have taken with her, has opened my eyes to the challenges faced by all young people, and just how common mental health issues are among this age group.”