The founder of the mental health support charity who cared for a teenager who died in hospital has spoken out on the state of mental health in this country.

Gemma Barrett, the founder of Nai’s House, a mental health support charity for young people, based in Bicester, told this paper that talking about suicide needs to be normalised, following the recent inquest into trans teenager Virgil Rhone’s death.

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Virgil was found with a ligature at home on March 1, 2022, and was taken to hospital where he died two days later.

Nai’s House – a voluntarily-staffed organisation - had assigned a paid support worker, Amber Knewman, to Virgil since April 2021.

Ms Knewman met up with Virgil weekly and offered support outside of their scheduled meetings whenever Virgil required it. Ms Barrett said: “It’s been heart breaking and devastating to have lost Virgil. We did as much as we could.

“What we were told by Virgil led us to believe he would be safe. It’s absolutely devastated us, and on the back of this there is a lot of reflection for us to do.”

Virgil’s parents, Vanessa and Pete Rhone, continue to support the charity and show their gratitude through fundraising efforts.

Ms Barrett added: “Vanessa and Pete are amazing, absolutely amazing. We still see them, they both help out at Nai’s House, we have a really good relationship with them.

“As a bereaved mother myself, I stand here in awe of Vanessa, I don’t know how she can function.”

Speaking on the state of mental health in the UK, Ms Barrett said: “Nobody seems to look at the ‘dark side’ of mental health; the fact that it can be completely debilitating.

“Nobody should be afraid of talking about suicide, we need to get it to a point where it’s as normal as talking about a more physical illness, like cancer.

“There needs to be much more funding going into self-harm and suicide prevention, and much more of a focus on safe, confidential spaces for young people to talk to a trusted person who will listen to them.

“Phonelines and general information can be useful, but one of the biggest problems we come up against at Nai’s House is loneliness and a lack of social connection among the young.

“Young people tend to resort to their phones and social media when they are feeling lonely, rather than going out to play with their friends and have real conversations, which is what the older generations have done.”

Ms Barrett argued there is a lack of preventative help in this country, and not enough is being done to provide young people with the tools they need to deal with changing their mindsets and perspectives.


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This story was written by Matthew Norman, he joined the team in 2022 as a Facebook community reporter.

Matthew covers Bicester and focuses on finding stories from diverse communities.

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