Young people with mental health conditions are helping hospital staff to better support others in crisis and needing urgent medical treatment.
A rising number of children and young people attend A&E every year, requiring hospital treatment for self-harm, overdose, anxiety and depression; yet a survey from Barts Health NHS Trust found that many staff admitted they felt unable to respond effectively to their mental health needs.
As the largest NHS trust, with three children’s A&Es caring for half a million children and young people in east London, it is likely the findings from Barts reflect the feeling of NHS staff across the country.
Many of the young people themselves said the attitudes and behaviour of staff had a great impact on their experience of care but they felt there was a lack of knowledge of mental health issues.
With the support of the Healthy Teen Minds and Common Room organisations and mental health professionals, the Trust has developed a training framework for hospital staff believed to be the only programme of its kind in the NHS. So far over 150 staff have attended the 'We Can Talk' one-day training session, including children's nurses, health care assistants, doctors and ward clerks. All attendees recommended the training, and 96 per cent reported it would make a big difference to the way they do their job.
Grace Jeremy, aged 24, is a young advisor with Common Room. She now leads the staff training sessions, sharing her experiences and the views of other young people. Grace said: "Young people want hospital staff to acknowledge and address their mental health needs. The majority prefer to self-treat when possible as they have had bad hospital experiences in the past. What’s really sad is that many say when they attend A&E they do so with feelings of shame and unworthiness.
"Young people in a mental health crisis attending A&E want exactly what anyone attending A&E would want; appropriate care, to be involved in decisions, empathy, understanding and a non-judgmental approach. From what I have seen and heard in the sessions staff really care and want to support people better, and I am thrilled to be helping to make this happen."
Felicity Mitchell, Sister in Children’s A&E at The Royal London Hospital said: "We do tend to look at the mental health issue that we've identified rather than focus on treating the child or young person. The training is definitely relevant to our work in A&E, discussing issues that we come up against and learning how we can approach them."