Revolutionising children’s mental health care

To mark Children’s Mental Health Week, the Digital Lead at North East London Foundation Trust’s Emotional Wellbeing and Mental Health Service (EWMHS) looks at the importance of experience based co-design and service innovation:

After presenting at a conference last week and telling the group I was a mental health nurse, a woman congratulated me on doing “what must be the hardest job in the world”.

I thanked her for her comment, but also told her that I couldn’t agree saying, in my opinion, the hardest job in the world is to be a teenager – and I truly believe that.

Don’t get me wrong, being a young person has never been all that easy, and there are times in our history that it has been particularly difficult, but being a young person now comes with a whole list of pressures and difficulties that we were barely aware of even 10 years ago.

Bullying is no longer confined to the classroom; instead it follows you to the internet. Society’s pressures come at you from all angles, including your phone. Exam pressure is now akin to career stress, and the concepts of privacy and consent have been blurred by the cyberspace.

Mental health services are struggling to keep up and it has become clear that we can no longer take an adult model of care and expect young people to conform to it. But how do we change? This is a question we posed to ourselves in NELFT last year but quickly realised it is not a question we can answer ourselves, as our interpretation of what young people want and need – versus what they actually want and need-can be very different.

I have seen many initiatives with such potential fall by the way side because they hadn’t incorporated the views of young people and clinicians from the start and, instead, had tried to solve their interpretation of the problem.

So we met with a number of young people, both users and non-users of our services, to ask about what we could improve. We also interviewed a group of clinicians, to identify the barriers and fears to change. These interviews laid the foundation for what has been an amazing journey into digital innovation.

The young people made it clear that they wanted a one-stop-shop for where they could find safe self help and support without needing to come into services and, if they did have to come into services, they wanted to communicate in a way that means something to them. Clinicians agreed. They wanted to take some of the resources used in services and make them universally available but were afraid of an increased admin’ burden.

The result was the My Mind design which over the past year has been built alongside young people and clinicians to create a website and an app that would meet these needs and build the stepping stones for a new, digital way of supporting and empowering young people and their families to support their mental health and emotional well-being.

Young people have played a pivotal role in the design and trialing of My Mind, and at EWMHS we hope to drive a wide scale movement of digital support for them.

They have identified key points we would have missed, like the best way of using social media to spread the message. They have helped identify great projects that we can scale to a national level using digital technology and, as a result, allowed us to work with and support our colleagues from schools and the local authorities to join us on this digital revolution.

Accessing young people can sometimes be a challenge and sometimes “participation” can feel like lip service but it doesn’t have to. By widening our horizons and involving ALL young people with an interest in mental health, as opposed to just service users, we have been able to meet with and recruit young people from all walks of life.

From services, to local youth councils and schools our group of young people is increasingly diverse as are their ideas.

Where exactly their ideas and our own will take us, nobody can be sure. But what is clear is that we need change, and the only way for that change to be meaningful is to use experience based co-design to ensure the right voices are being heard.

  • NELFT’s Emotional Wellbeing and Mental Health Services (EWMHS) is for anybody aged between 0-18, living in Essex, and is free at the point of entry. The service is also for young people with special educational needs (SEN) up to the age of 25. Any young person experiencing emotional wellbeing or mental health problems, (or any parent, guardian, professional or teacher of a child who is experiencing emotional wellbeing and mental health difficulties), may access our service.

For more information, visit the NELFT NHS Foundation Trust website, or contact the service on 0300 300 1600.

Emma Selby

Emma Selby is a Clinical Nurse Specialist and Digital Lead for North East London Foundation Trust’s Emotional Wellbeing and Mental Health Services (EWMHS) in Essex

She has five years’ experience as a CAMHS, working in services for children across the North London and Essex area.

Her career highlights include winning the Nursing Times Rising Star Nurse of the Year in 2014 and creating the My Mind app.

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  1. Rachel Wilson says:

    Hi, reading this report has been quite enlightening, I do feel that there is a need for services like this for children, I live and work in an area where children’s mental health issues are on the increase, it would be great to roll this programme out across the UK, rather than limiting it to a certain area.

  2. Jean Spain says:

    Don’t know if you will receive this but is it any wonder there is so much mental illness borne of anxiety sometimes amongst our children. I had an email yesterday to say a friend’s sensitive 10 year old son worries so much about school due to the fact that if they get their work wrong once it is a Rule and twice is a Detention. How disgraceful

  3. Liz Paterson says:

    Well said Emma. How lovely to hear a fresh approach with a real focus on the needs of young people.