Calls to stop Suffolk youngsters in need of mental health support being called 'attention seekers'
- Credit: NHS
“Difficult to engage” and “seeking attention” are phrases that must be eradicated from the language used to speak to youngsters in need of mental health support in Suffolk, a health summit has heard.
And health leaders have also said a culture change to stop families being passed “from pillar to post” around different services must also cease.
Suffolk’s health scrutiny committee meeting on Wednesday heard from Suffolk’s young people’s mental health champion, Everett, who has experienced the county’s mental health services for autism, OCD and sensory processing needs since they were a child.
In a powerful speech to health leaders, Everett said that there were countless numbers of children and teenagers facing mental health crisis who have been told they are “difficult to engage” or “attention seekers” which had a damaging impact on their mental health.
“Difficult to engage is something a lot of young people have heard in their mental health journeys from service providers,” Everett said.
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“I have been called difficult to engage and I have no doubt I will be called that again."
Everett said some had been “written off for the things that caused them to reach out in the first place,” and added: “It’s understanding that sometimes the things we say have an adverse effect and we need to scrutinise that more.”
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Other unhelpful phrases Everett said youngsters had been told by services included “what do you expect us to do?”, “are you feeling a bit blue?” and “that’s just how autistic people are”.
Everett, 28, said that it was not about blaming clinicians who were under their own pressures, but highlighted it as a problem youngsters faced when trying to access care. Having empathy and understanding for those who have come forward needing support was key to improving services, they said.
Everett has also called for more therapy options because a one-size-fits-all approach did not work, and in some instances linking a youngster with the incorrect therapy “can set them back years”.
Elsewhere, health leaders said too many families were being passed around different services because they may not neatly qualify with one organisation’s criteria, which left parents feeling exasperated and delaying the support those youngsters needed.
Julia Ilott, engagement hub manager with children’s and young people’s services at Suffolk County Council, said: “Accessing the right service at the right time is probably the most difficult thing young people face.
“Once you get those support services right in a timely way that young people can access easily at a time they need it, everything else should follow.”
Suffolk Parent Carer Network which works with families directly said it was a common theme among the families it works with. Co-chair Anne Humphreys said: “That’s where families get lost and feel abandoned and isolated because they are just trying to get the best for their children.”
Beth Mosley, lead clinical psychologist with Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT), who works with youngsters in schools in West Suffolk, said: “The wrong help can sometimes do more damage than good”.
She added: “This pillar to post mentality is so unhelpful for families – it means young people are being ricocheted around the system, and actually they get passed on when what you tried didn’t work.
“What we need to do is come together as agencies and establish what will work to meet this young person’s needs and try and deliver that together, rather than having this moving from one place to another.”
The trust’s chief operating officer Stuart Richardson said that health leaders “absolutely believe” the transformation plan being drawn up for mental health services will allow for that.
Among those measures are additional training for GPs presented with mental health concerns in children, plans for a crisis outreach service, aims to extend a pilot in high schools in West Suffolk to provide one-to-one support for pupils, and a pilot at Ipswich Hospital where youngsters presenting at A&E with self-harm symptoms are given immediate support.
To contact Suffolk's emotional wellbeing hub call 0345 600 2090.