'Back from the abyss' in a teen mental health care unit

14/03/13

Drawing at Bristol's specialist Riverside Unit

At 11 years of age, Emma was raped by a stranger in a park. At 16, she jumped off a bridge onto a busy motorway to try to kill herself.

Now 18, Emma says she's well on the way to recovery.

Emma says that she wanted to kill herself because she couldn't cope with the after-effects of being raped.

"I'm constantly having flashbacks back to what happened. It's not being able to go out socially and be OK with my friends, or boys," she explains.

It's not being able to go out socially and be OK with my friends, or boys. I broke both my back and my feet. And I survived, which I thought I wouldn't do
"Emma"

"I broke both my back and my feet. And I survived, which I thought I wouldn't do."

Emma is a fake name, as Newsbeat is protecting this young woman's real identity.

Her physical injuries took months to heal. For her mental health recovery though, she spent more than a year at Bristol's specialist Riverside Unit.

Specifically for 13 to 18-year-olds, it's a treatment centre for people with severe mental ill health, like eating disorders, psychosis, or Emma's post-traumatic stress disorder.

Typical day

"We would go down to 'Start of Day' which is held in the dining room," Emma recalls. "We would just touch base with the staff and the other young people."

"Then we might have dance therapy, chucking balls everywhere or playing musical statues.

"It's a great way to release all the anger, or the sadness, or any of the feelings that you've got."

Teachers at the unit help people keep up with school and college work.

Drawing at Bristol's specialist Riverside Unit

There's also a chill out area with a TV, pool table and sofas.

Emma walks to an upstairs room with Family Therapy Suite written on the door.

"I dreaded family therapy," she remembers. "It was really, really hard.

"I got to hear, in this very room, my mum and dad's experiences of what happened.

"It was difficult for me to hear those things. But they needed to be shared and this was a safe environment."

'The abyss'

Caroline Mercier was in charge of Emma's treatment at Riverside.

"It's the person who does the work," she says. "I'm there to guide and support.

"I use the metaphor of mountaineering. You might be showing them the way and stopping them fall down the abyss but they're climbing.

"They get to where they need to go."

Drawing at Bristol's specialist Riverside Unit

Emma's time at Riverside was far from easy. Even while she was there, she made a second attempt to kill herself.

Now though, she says she's looking forward to a positive future.

"It all just gradually came together," she says. "It all just started being OK. You learn so much here about ways to manage it.

"It was important for me to learn those things otherwise I'd still be trying to end my life now."

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