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14th May 2021
Niamh's journey with Alder Hey began when she was three. She was diagnosed with Selective Mutism, a rare type of anxiety disorder which affects the speech.
Selective mutism is caused by two clusters of nuclei called the amygdala in the brain. In people with Selective Mutism, these clusters are overactive and when they are stressed, the speech output abilities are shut down and a person is left physically unable to speak. This means people become effectively mute in environments such as school, going to the shops, or playing sports.
Niamh said; "As a result of this I was a lonely child, I spent a lot of my youth in hospital and at specialist clinics. I used to play on my own at school - when I was in school - and was bullied sometimes by other children.
I forgive them for this because they didn’t understand what was wrong with me but I still felt sad watching the other children play without me. That’s the most upsetting thing about the condition; you can understand language perfectly, you just can’t reply. Your voice, and your identity, is stolen from you.
Speech therapy at Alder Hey changed my life by using specialist treatments to put me on a path to recovery. The clinicians were kind, professional, and thoughtful, treating each client as an individual as opposed to a number.
My therapist made me a paper lion that I could take to school with me to show how brave I was; I still have that lion at home in a box and it is a treasured possession. They worked with my school to ensure that I was treated equally and my classmates became a lot more accepting after they were taught what Selective Mutism was."
As a teenager, Niamh wanted to do something to give back to Alder Hey. Our CAMHS service got in touch with her and asked if she wanted to join a Youth Participation Group, a team of volunteers made up of young people who have used the services in the past. Niamh leapt at the opportunity.
She said; "I was so nervous going to my first meeting, but I made some amazing friends and have had the privilege of doing some incredible work with the ‘Camhelions’, as our Youth team is affectionately called. As of this February I have been part of the Camhelions for three years and have loved every single day.
I’ve had the opportunity to visit universities to talk to doctorate-level clinical psychology students about our work, develop apps for young people struggling with their mental health, and helped to completely refurbish the new CAMHS home in Burlington House. These are all amazing memories that I look back on now, grateful for the opportunity to have been involved with."
"Being in a Youth Participation Group really opened my eyes as to how rewarding it was to give back to the community. For this reason, I decided to become a Speech and Language Therapist myself, to help others like I had been helped. I am in my second year now, it is an intense course but I love working in the clinics and meeting new clients and their families.
Over lockdown, I set up my own online page, ‘Niamh’s Live-Streams’, where I deliver live-streams a couple of times a week to give company to people who might be living alone or struggling with their mental health. Another important thing to me is my poetry; I’ve had some of my sonnets published and have read my work at open mic nights over Zoom. For someone who once couldn’t talk, this is a huge milestone and I am infinitely grateful to Alder Hey for making it possible
I still struggle sometimes with anxiety and low self-esteem, and I have a long way to go in my development as a person, but I wake up every day thankful for the opportunity to live and have a voice. Thank you so much Alder Hey, you truly are amazing.”
Alder Hey Children's Charity