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Why participation in children and young people’s mental health is key

NHS England has commissioned YoungMinds to bring together the voices of children, young people, parents and carers in a new report published today. YoungMinds activist, Lorna Reeve, emphasises why it is so important to listen to and act on the views of those who use mental health services.

Participation in treatment is so important to so many young people. Imagine going into hospital for a broken leg, not knowing any of the usual treatments, when a doctor you don’t know comes in, in silence, and manipulates your leg to give you an X-ray and then puts a cast on. How do you feel? Confused? Scared? Hopeless? That’s how many young people feel when accessing mental health services for the first time.

For most, it will be the first time they have ever experienced much of the medical system, feeling helpless and vulnerable. Then, someone they have never met comes in to talk to them and they are asked to immediately trust them, tell them all of their secrets and do what they are told. It sounds hard and, in practice, is even more difficult.

The same situation can be changed to make it less daunting, however, simply by making a few initial statements – “You are in control of your treatment, it goes at your pace and you are allowed to change therapist.” These are the first, tentative steps towards including young people in their own healthcare and puts them in control and limits anxiety, even for a patient in crisis.

There are many other ways in which participation can be offered in mental health services. This can start simply, with resources that explain people’s options, opening the channels of communication between young people and professionals.

Once young people start to feel more able to engage, it is possible to gain specific feedback from them, giving them more autonomy and the ability to make positive changes for themselves and future service-users. From this point, people can become as involved as they like moving from simple feedback questionnaires into service-user groups for specific services, and further upwards, perhaps working with YoungMinds or other groups – even making notable commissioning decisions at a national level.

Once given the opportunities, my experiences suggest that young people gain confidence and are more able to engage effectively, leading to better future prospects as well as negating the impact of any prior difficult experiences of mental health care. I am only able to fully engage when I am in control and feel safe. This is an experience I am assured is shared by many young people.

I am someone who wants to make a difference and to help others. Often, I want to use my worst experiences as an opportunity to stop these things happening to other people. One of the greatest ways of being able to do this is simply to be asked what needs to change. The first steps are so simple: How did you feel? Was there anything we could do to make things better? These efforts make such a difference to the lives of so many young people who are navigating the complicated world of mental health care.

Lorna is a YoungMinds activisit.

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