A Service Users Experience of Mental Ill-health in Childhood and Education

This week is focusing on the service user’s experience. Hannah is a University of Portsmouth graduate and is employed as an administrator at the University of Portsmouth’s Student’s Union. She is also a Time to Change Ambassador. Hannah first began to experience mental health issues during her teenage years. In this blog post Hannah describes her experience as a young person in education experiencing mental ill-health.
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*Girl featured in image is not the author of the blog-post*

My name is Hannah, I’m 26 years old and I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression since I was about 14 years old. My depression can result in me not wanting to face the real world, not having the energy to get out of bed or get dressed, feeling worthless, not wanting to see people, feeling inconsolable and so low I just start crying at the slightest thing or so numb I feel nothing – I can never decide which is worse, and that’s just to name a few symptoms. My anxiety can be equally debilitating. Self-doubt and criticisms going round and round in my head making me physically freeze or panic. It can turn me into a quiet, nervous, frantic individual and even make me physically ill. I can naturally be an over thinker and when anxiety takes over this means I constantly second guess myself when I pride myself on the fact that when I make a decision, I MAKE a decision!

Depression and anxiety are not always exclusive. Yes they can affect me at the same time and one can lead to another but this isn’t always the case. They come and go, they can be stronger at times than others, I am not in a constant state of depression and/or anxiety.  I can go for months at a time not feeling depressed or anxious, or not such that it affects my life or having any major symptoms. I have had times where I’ve had a long stretch of nothing big and then one or both kick in and I have to deal with it, to have friends say ‘oh but you were doing so well’. It can just hit like a tidal wave. In retrospect there are generally things that have triggered this but they aren’t always obvious at the time or controllable. Other times they just slowly creep up on me until it becomes overwhelming. Usually my mind has been pre-occupied and self-care has taken a back seat but it can still surprise me

All of this is a brief snap shot into what can happen when I experience depression and anxiety, however that being said this doesn’t mean that I want or need sympathy and I don’t expect you to understand, I just need acceptance. This is something I have that I have to be aware of and deal with from time to time, like someone with diabetes watching their diet and taking injections or an asthmatic with breathing exercises or an inhaler. It doesn’t define me, it is just a small part of me.

I’ve also managed to turn my experiences on their head and thrive from them! Over the last year or so I’ve discovered a passion for mental health advocacy, volunteering, campaigning and supporting others. Through this I have been able to take my negative experiences and turn them into something positive. Now it’s not all hunky dory, I do have my bad days where my depression and anxiety make it hard to get through the day. However my workplace are extremely supportive and they have helped me put a Wellness Action Plan together, to help when I’m struggling. I also thrive by doing the following:

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  • Doing activities I enjoy like dancing, reading, listening to music, being creative, spending time with friends, visiting new places and discovering new things
  • Focussing on the positives, I’ve recently started a GLAD (Grateful, Learned, Achieved, Delighted) diary which I write in ever day
  • Practicing mindfulness
  • Look after myself – good diet, exercise etc.
  • Writing my blog

Instead of letting my mental health be a negative thing, I’m doing everything I can to change my experiences into a positive thing, learn from them and hopefully in the process help and inspire others. Having said all this though, as a friend of mine recently said, sometimes when living with a mental illness surviving is thriving

*You can follow Hannah on Twitter here.* Links are NOT affiliates.*

To cite this post: MICE Hub and Morton, H. 9th August 2017, A Service User’s Experience of Mental Ill-Health in Childhood and Education.

Mental Health and Safeguarding in Childhood (1880-1920)

The approaches to safeguarding and supporting mental health and wellbeing in childhood today, are not all that different from those in the Victorian and Edwardian times.  Studying a total of 120 case files from the Children’s Society’s archives from 1880-1920, with a specific focus on language around mental health, revealed a number of similarities. The reasons for being taken into care, were and are still very much the same, namely based around the relationship between child and family, mental health of the parents and alcoholism (and surprisingly few children were taken into care due to being orphans in the Victorian/Edwardian times as is commonly thought).

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Joined up working and multi-agency teamwork is now, as it was then, problematic; practice is fragmented, partly due to lack of funding. In addition to this, the child’s ‘voice’ seems to be only sporadically acknowledged – then and now. For example, one case file from 1920 refers to a 16 year old girl asking to ‘come out of the asylum’ and ‘start afresh’; this never happened. Similar developments can still be seen now, where children have a lack of choice in what happens to them in care, with care leavers describing the care system as ‘extremely disappointing’, whilst reflecting upon this. Other similarities are a focus on the child’s behaviour, and practical and cognitive abilities (e.g. think about the current focus on ‘NEET’, not in education, training or employment), at the cost of attention for mental health and wellbeing.

This research was presented at the European Society for the History of Human Sciences conference (ESHHS) in Italy, by Dr Wendy Sims-Schouten an academic in Childhood Studies at the University of Portsmouth, drawing on her research on mental health in childhood, funded by the Wellcome Trust. The purpose of ESHHS is to promote international, multidisciplinary cooperation in scholarly activity and research in the history of the human sciences.

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The term ‘mental health’ was popularised in the early 1900s by physicians and social reformers. Over a century later, mental health and wellbeing are recurrent themes in the media and on government agendas, with evidence that still more needs to be done on this front. This research shows how many of the issues that concern contemporary studies of childhood (e.g. parenting, poverty) have a historical trajectory that informs the present. Stigma continues to play a significant role, and understandings are subject to the interests and values of the people, organisations and institutions attempting to define and interpret terms.

Comparing the historic research in the Children’s Society archives with current date from 84 interviews with school children, young care leavers and parents reveals that although language around mental health and wellbeing has developed (e.g. correspondence in 1880 refers to a young girl as a ‘lunatic’ and a father as ‘hopelessly insane’) the approach taken by those responsible for children’s welfare has changed remarkably little in over 100 years.  More needs to be done to improve mental health care and reduce stigma and I hope some of this research can be used to challenge today’s interpretation and treatment and get the best for our children.

Mind Media Awards Entries 2017 and Annual Mental Health Survey

The entries for the Mind charity annual media awards closed on Friday 7th July, a shortlist will be announced later this year. Last years’ winners presented a touching array of stories from Professor Green sharing his experiences about his Dad’s suicide to Rosie Adam’s blog about post-natal depression. The awards help to publicise important developments surrounding mental health in the media and through public engagement, with awards for digital champion and student journalist among those for drama and radio. There are also special awards given for speaking out and making a difference. These categories allow a particular focus for addressing the stigma surrounding mental health encourage people to talk about it and provides the drivers to initiate change, especially for young people.

In the words of Jeremy Paxman,

“I think the big difficulty is for people to realise that this is perfectly normal, it is perfectly normal to have mental health problems. I’ve got a bad knee at present, but I’m not embarrassed to tell you or anybody else about it, but people are embarrassed to talk about mental issues, and its perfectly normal, particularly among young people, to have issues with depression or suicidal feelings. I don’t think you’re going to change young people overnight but what you can do is change the climate around it so that they’re find it easier to talk and to seek help and you know, the media can really help with that.”

This coincides with the Mind annual mental health survey which allows everyone over the age of 16 to share their experiences surrounding mental health and accessing care and services. This is a simple and accessible way to gather data to look at how well service providers are meeting the demands of the public, but what about children and young people below the age of sixteen? Could this particular survey model be tailored specifically for younger age groups and parents? With mental ill-health becoming an increasing concern for our children and suggestions that CAMHS waiting times are ever increasing, would it not be useful to provide a similar survey to parents, professionals and young people to share their experiences and identify gaps in this particular area. Last year the office of national statistics carried out the first survey on children’s mental health since 2004 – that’s over 12 years in which a significant and important age group was forgotten, suggesting that there is scope for such a survey to be useful, such as those in the Children’s Societies Good Childhood report, which suggest that mental health and wellbeing in children has declined over the past 5 years. Something needs to be done to address this gap so that the mental health and wellbeing of future generations is not overlooked.

 

*Please note: all opinions and views expressed are that of the MICE Hub and not associated with Mind charity. All published media associated with Mind charity is original and reproduced exactly as it was published at mind.org.uk