Ehlana's story

“Obviously, it's daunting, scary, coming into a psychiatric hospital. You hear a lot of stories about places like this, and there are a lot of stereotypes. So when you first arrive, you don't know what to expect.

Everybody was so lovely, so welcoming. I got settled in really quickly because two boys on the ward asked if I wanted to play cards. I didn't want to go out, but because I did I made friends a lot more quickly and it helped a lot.

The Darwin school was amazing. The teachers I had were the kindest people I've ever met; they were so patient. The hours at school helped a lot with expressing myself. They push you the right amount. If you found it hard to focus you could just sit and read a book, or for me it was dance. I was always in the back room with the music on and I would just dance. They helped me get back into my old secondary school and arranged to use the school’s dance studio. I went back and sat my GCSEs.

My mum came to visit me, which was a good thing because a lot of patients don't have family that can come in whenever they want. My mum and dad did the family therapy sessions and I would go, occasionally.

Teenage girl Ehlana sitting on sofa with a nurse and an activities coordinator from the Darwin Centre

Ehlana, with nurse Clare Martino (left) and activities coordinator Clare Matson

Ehlana, with nurse Clare Martino (left) and activities coordinator Clare Matson

It was lovely that the staff would take us out on little outings, even if it was only to Tesco. They also worked so hard to set up the group therapy sessions even if we didn't make it easy for them!

My discharge was the saddest goodbye. The unit was my home and the patients were like my family, as you spend pretty much every day with them and you bond. It's hard to detach yourself, but we talked about our memories and had caterpillar cake!

After leaving the Darwin, I worked with the Intensive Support Team. They make sure that you have help and when I moved on to adult services, they tried to make things as easy as possible.

The idea of a specialist children’s hospital which integrates mental and physical health would make a big difference. It would have helped me.

I had a broken wrist and an issue with my toes, which staff did their best to take care of. It would also be better if we were closer to an emergency department. Although it's not very far away, it’s still a 10 minute taxi ride.

What would I like to see in the new children's hospital? It’d be nice to have carpet, at least in one room! At the Darwin Centre, we were all the same age and all going through a similar struggle and locked away from our lives. I think a relaxed communal area for the mental health wards would help us mix without it being forced.”

Angela's story

My teenage daughter, Ehlana, had been struggling with her mental health for a while, when her psychiatrist told me how serious things had become. He told me Ehlana was planning to kill herself. My feet were swept from under me. That was definitely the worst day. 

Ehlana was referred to the Darwin Centre. Knowing she wasn’t on her own, that others understood the depth of her feelings, really helped her. There were people at the Darwin that could understand how she was feeling and help her with things that I just couldn’t, because I was mum. They saved her life. I think if we hadn’t had that help, we would have lost her.

Ehlana stayed at the Darwin for nine months. She was later admitted again, but for shorter periods.  The only times I used to get a good night’s sleep was when Ehlana was in hospital because I knew people were watching her. 

The new Cambridge Children’s Hospital, where a young person’s mental and physical health together, is really needed. There shouldn’t be a difference between physical or mental care. It makes sense to bring the two together. Illness is illness. 

I like the idea of my daughter being somewhere where she is a person, not a mental health patient.

When your child is taken into hospital, it really is the end of your world. It does get very dark and it often gets a lot worse before it gets better. But they can get through it and so can we as parents. It just takes time.


Thank you Ehlana and Angela for sharing your stories!

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