Children's Mental Health Services: Another Way

Around half of all mental health problems begin before the age of 14. Yet young people often don’t seek help or fall through the gap between child and adult services.

Teens and early twenties are the formative years; they can also be a time of greatest vulnerability. So much is changing, but paradoxically this age group has the greatest struggle to get help. Young people have experienced the least improvement in health status of any age group in the UK over the last fifty years.

It’s a dilemma. You’re 17, living on the streets and your mental health is not good. You feel suicidal but don’t know where to turn. You’re registered with the family GP but don’t feel you can confide. Do you turn up at A&E, wait hours to be assessed and then what? Where will you go to from there? In Liverpool, there’s another way.

At the Young Persons Advisory Service (YPAS) a quiet revolution is taking place. Young people drop in for a cup of tea and a chat, or a shower and a chance to wash the clothes they may have been wearing for days or weeks (a huge help for those living on the street or in a hostel.) Because they feel comfortable they are more able to talk about their challenging experiences, enabling health and other services to offer vital support.

One of the most common issues raised is the trauma caused to young people by having to tell their story time and time again to different professionals; to avoid this they all too often choose to keep things to themselves.

Health professionals, including a GP and Mersey Care’s Early Intervention service, come together under one roof, at YPAS for consultation meetings. With a young person’s consent the GP, mental health nurse, counsellor and children’s psychologist share information, knowledge and expertise to ensure the right support is put in place.

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Early Intervention Practitioner Phil Laing says many young people from YPAS access the early intervention service.

“The evidence is alarming; 16 to 25 year olds are experiencing mental health problems more than ever before. If they don’t have a chance to recover at an early stage those mental health difficulties can become chronic, yet many don’t access services when they need support. Having the service where they are is so important.”

Liverpool GP Diane Exley runs the GP surgery every Thursday afternoon at YPAS. The evidence of its success is the growth in the number of young people attending.

“Most of the people we see here come with mental health difficulties. They often feel unable to talk to their family doctor. I try to give them the confidence to go back to their own GP or maybe change to another practice. Being based at YPAS and having a drop-in arrangement works well. It’s friendly; you have quality time to talk to people.”

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For YPAS Senior Operations Manager Val O’Donnell early intervention and prevention is vital. “The lack of focus on young people’s health needs has consequences for us all. Untreated or poorly recognised health problems not only create difficulties for individuals and their families, they also create long term pressures on an already hard pressed health system and wider costs to the public purse. This approach is about destigmatising mental health services for young people and children and reducing the numbers falling through the bureaucratic gap between agencies, charities and NHS departments.”

Young Person's Advisory Service (YPAS) offers a safe comfortable space for young people aged 16 to 25. The daily drop-in has an open door policy, young people can have a chat, meet new people, use the computer suite, free internet access, discuss other services or take part in informal education sessions. A member of staff is always available to meet and assist visiotrs if they need support. For more information visit the YPAS website.