When a 12-year-old girl turned up at a Victorian hospital emergency department after trying to self-harm and talking about hurting her family, she was turned away.
Now 16, the girl has been diagnosed with conditions including borderline personality disorder and her mother says the mental health system is "shockingly inadequate" and has repeatedly failed them.
"Myself and my daughter have put our hand up for help so many times and we have not received it," the mother, who asked not to be identified, told Victoria's royal commission into the mental health system on Thursday.
From the age of about nine, her daughter began suffering panic attacks during which she felt like she was losing touch with reality.
"She was not feeling like she was in the world, that the world was black and white, that her brain needed to be taken out and washed," her mother said.
The girl's mental health continued to spiral out of control and the pair often spent a long time waiting in hospital only to be sent home with virtually no support.
"It really did feel like we were being pushed to the bottom and people were coming in with minor injuries and being seen before us," her mother said.
The girl ended up dropping out of school and using drugs, and was placed in residential care in Melbourne but often slept on the streets, where she suffered further trauma.
"I didn't feel like anyone was listening," the woman said of her repeated attempts to get help for her child.
"We've been told to hide the knives and things like that and she's been sent home (from hospital)."
When the teenager was eventually admitted, she was placed in a locked psychiatric ward where she felt like "a caged animal".
It took about seven years to find treatment that helped, with the girl's mother suffering breakdowns from the stress.
"I was so worried my daughter was going to kill herself," the woman said.
She wants families to have more support so they can intervene before they end up in the emergency department.
The head of mental health charity Beyond Blue, Georgie Harman, has told the commission the system needs lasting reform going beyond short-term funding and election cycles.
"Let's let this thing survive the slings and arrows of electoral cycles, because people and their families have been asking for this for a long time," she said.
Psychiatrist and former Australian of the Year Patrick McGorry is expected to give evidence at the commission on Friday.
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Australian Associated Press