My counselling ended before I was ready because I turned 18

I was told a week before my last appointment that they were going to end

As a young child, I always felt different to other children, particularly because I was entirely socially uncomfortable and also because of the thoughts I would have. I remember early on in my childhood, when I was still in primary school, I would think about suicide, have overwhelming negative thoughts about myself which later progressed into hurting myself.

Despite all of this, I would just brush it off and try not to get overly consumed by these thoughts or ideas.

Although many may be thinking, surely that was a sign, I never managed to put the pieces together this early on. To be entirely honest, I thought it was somewhat normal. I didn’t even really know what any of this meant at this stage or understand what I was thinking. The negative thoughts and self-hatred were definitely something I deemed pretty normal. I just presumed that all the other children probably hated themselves too, giving themselves lectures in their heads about how to act, what to do and what not to do.

Now that I am much older, I’m realising that while it may be true for some, it probably was not for the majority. It was not until I was around 13 that I thought, maybe there is something actually off here. I began to think back to all these feelings in my childhood and it just clicked, it was not right, not “normal”. Around this time, I was dealing with being in secondary school and felt there was a lot of pressure in terms of cliques and such. I felt like I couldn’t breathe, there were so many more people around me than in my somewhat segregated primary school.


If I got into a fight with a friend, it turned into an evening of me ripping myself apart in my mind until I literally felt so worthless

There was pressure to be likeable, interesting and so on which I didn’t really feel when I was in primary school. Even though I felt I was weird and different in primary school, it was not cliquey and I did actually have friends. Alongside the pressures of secondary school, I was also dealing with some home challenges - growing up alongside my sister with autism being one of them. The first mental health issue I ever encountered was depression and while there were signs of it developing in my childhood, I still was not ready for it.

I remember going into a depressive state where I just felt empty inside, as though nobody cared that I was there, that they would all be better off without me, because I ruin everything, and I don’t even have to open my mouth to do that, me just being present was enough. If I got into a fight with a friend, it turned into an evening of me ripping myself apart in my mind until I literally felt so worthless. When I was tired of doing this to myself, I let other people do it for me. I started self-harming at this age as a result of the pressures and just feeling even more odd than ever.

This was when I started my counselling journey, in the hope that I could one day feel happiness, I hadn’t felt true happiness to this day really, just faked joy and forced smiles. I continued my counselling right up until I was 18 and throughout that time had a number of different counsellors who helped me battle my depression, self-harm addiction, anorexia and part of my anxiety. You will know why I say “part of” in a moment. In saying that, I went through so many counsellors before I found the right one for me, when I was around 17. You may be thinking sure they all do the same thing, but no.

A majority of counsellors are good at their jobs but speaking to someone about sensitive and trigger topics such as mental health requires someone who makes you feel comfortable and that you have a connection with. You can’t just talk to anyone about these problems you are having. I had a connection with this woman, I felt zero embarrassment or shame telling her anything I felt, had done and so on. She sparked real change within me and helped me to build my confidence and self-esteem from nothing. Beyond chats about my mental wellbeing, we would also have normal conversations which were nice too to break things up.

Unfortunately, when I reached the age of 18, our sessions came to an end. It was a rule at the time that because it was a child and adolescents counselling centre, I had to get the boot once I reached 18 years of age. This is something that really angers and upsets me to this day. We only scratched the surface with my anxiety disorder, which I feel is why it is so bad. You may be wondering, “you could just go somewhere else” and yes, I did just that. However, I struggled to find anyone I could connect to.

I still have not found a counsellor.

When I had to leave at 18, I was not given any referral to anyone else or the option of continuing and I think this is wrong. It makes me wonder, if I had a relapse, would they still deny me? The rules seem ridiculous in that instance. I was told a week before my last appointment that they were going to end and it almost felt like someone said to me: “Right so you have a week to get fully better and go live your life without any struggles.”

Unfortunately, that was never going to be the outcome for me. A majority of my mental health issues are the result of trauma I experienced as a child and that is not something that is easy to shake off.

I still wish I hadn't been booted out to fend for myself, especially when suicidal thoughts and hugely negative thoughts are what resulted in me seeking out counselling in the first place

Because I struggled greatly to find a new counsellor which I could connect with, it felt as though my journey to recovery hit a crossroads. I was essentially left with the option of continuing aggressively to find a new counsellor that suited me, which was a lot to endure. Alternatively, I could go on and do self-therapy, out on my own. This essentially involved self-help books and acting as my own counsellor. While that might sound not so bad, it was really challenging at times. Although I feel I am more or less out the other end now, trying to talk yourself down from a bad place is easier said than done. I had to assume the role of therapist for myself and sometimes, I could see right through it and lacked motivation in getting better.

What’s more, I talked myself out of the proposed good challenges which would help me grow. Most of the time, I didn’t feel like I was making much progress and felt overwhelmingly alone. Yes, it did help to a degree in that I understand my triggers and my own mental health issues a lot better now, and it does bring some pride saying I managed to provide myself therapy somewhat successfully. However, despite these learnings, I still wish I hadn’t been booted out to fend for myself, especially when suicidal thoughts and hugely negative thoughts are what resulted in me seeking out counselling in the first place. Realistically speaking, the best scenario would have been me leaving when I felt I was ready.

If that is not allowed, then some referrals to other practices or independent psychologists should have been given to me. Or other supports like resources I could use. I’m lucky that I was in a relatively good place when I was leaving, having dealt with a lot of my problems but not everyone recovers as quickly as others. It’s like learning to drive a car or ride a bike, just as we learn at different paces, we recover at different paces too. There is no age limit on when we should reach a point of being mentally well.

We should be mindful of this and ensure we provide the appropriate resources and supports for individuals transitioning out of child and adolescent services into adult services. What's more, understand that in order to heal effectively and get better, we need to be speaking with someone we connect with. What's more, the process of going through and finding the ideal counsellor can be quite exhausting for someone who is not mentally well. Tools such as Fettle (an online site to find a suitable therapist) can help a lot with this.

I wish a tool like this had been around when I had to leave my adolescent counselling service.