Young people want better access to mental health services in Wiltshire 

Written by Tony Millett on .

Zoe Tonks & Elley-May Timmins with the Young Listeners report - ready to present it to the Wiltshire Health & Wellbeing Board (Photos: Tim Gander)Zoe Tonks & Elley-May Timmins with the Young Listeners report - ready to present it to the Wiltshire Health & Wellbeing Board (Photos: Tim Gander)A group of Wiltshire young people are on a mission to change the way mental health services are run for their peers and will be presenting a report to Wiltshire’s Health and Wellbeing Board next Thursday (May 18).

Young Listeners from Healthwatch Wiltshire spoke to 174 children and young people in the county to find out how they felt about using health and care services.

Their findings have now gone into a report which will be presented to the Board -which brings together all the leaders of the health and social care system in Wiltshire.

Healthwatch Wiltshire, the county’s independent champion for health and social care issues, has a seat on the board and will be highlighting key findings from the Young Listeners' report. The Listening to Children and Young People: Your Experience of Health and Social Care report found:

One of the young people presenting to the board will be eighteen-year-old Kerry McKenzie:  “Before ever carrying out a listening exercise I was sceptical at the impact it would make on people. But then I got into it and realised young people who are talking to someone of a similar age to them open up more than they do to an adult."

The Young Listeners: L to R - Lucy Owen-Baines,  Elley-May Timmins, Zoe Radford - all from Calne.  Becky Burchell & Zoe Tonks from Chippenham. Scott Kane from Trowbridge, Elizabeth Bools from Melksham & Kerry McKenzie from Westbury.The Young Listeners: L to R - Lucy Owen-Baines, Elley-May Timmins, Zoe Radford - all from Calne. Becky Burchell & Zoe Tonks from Chippenham. Scott Kane from Trowbridge, Elizabeth Bools from Melksham & Kerry McKenzie from Westbury.“An 11-year old girl wrote me a note saying, ‘Thank you for helping me with my bullying, you are all so kind and helpful’ - and an 18 year old I was talking to switched from barely saying anything to spilling out his strong views on mental healthcare to me.”

Also making the presentatioin will be Healthwatch Wiltshire's Volunteer and Engagement Manager, Lucie Woodruff.

Julia Cramp, from Wiltshire Council and Wiltshire Clinical Commissioning Group, has welcomed the report: “It is great to see the work that has been done by Healthwatch Wiltshire’s Young Listeners. Improving support for young people struggling with their mental health is a priority for commissioners and we are working with young people, schools and the specialist Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service to transform mental health services."

“Improvements will only be made if commissioners listen to what young people are telling us. I look forward to hearing from the Young Listeners!”

Healthwatch Wiltshire worked in partnership with local groups Youth Action Wiltshire and Community First to train the group of young people (aged 16-18 -pictured above) to become Young Listeners.

They had training on listening skills, community organising skills and safeguarding. They then worked together to develop questions around three key areas: young carers, children and young people with special educational needs and emotional wellbeing and mental health.

The teens then visited youth groups and clubs across the county to listen to the views of young people. They chose their listening style to suit the age groups, creating a board game to play with younger children and a found simple chat worked well with older teens.

Chris Graves, chair of Healthwatch Wiltshire, found the young team to be as an absolutely inspiring, engaging and enthusiastic group of young people who got 'stuck into really valuable work':  "In their own time, they have gone out to listen to other children and young people about their experiences of health and social care services."

“They have told me the scheme has helped them learn new skills and develop their confidence. This project has enabled us to reach out to a wider group of young people and some key messages have come out of this work.”

The full 12-page report can be viewed here.  There are more details on the Young Listeners programme here The Young Listeners produced a short film which can be seen here.

One Young Listener's experience:  'Volunteering has given me something to look forward to'

A young woman from Wiltshire has used her own mental health struggles to reach out to others through the Young Listeners scheme. Eighteen-year-old Kerry McKenzie suffered with a range of mental health disorders as a teenager, but found through the Young Listeners scheme that she could relate to others and pass on their views to Healthwatch Wiltshire to help make a difference.

“My own experience of accessing mental health care had its challenges. I didn’t want to tell my parents how I was feeling because I struggle to open up to people and I didn’t know how to access help."

"My local practice was busy, so booking an appointment was difficult. Instead, I would write notes on my phone to log how I was feeling – I used to think I was useless, a waste of space and unable to do anything right."

“After three attempts to find an appointment, I was eventually allocated a time-slot and saw a GP. It was hard for me to work myself up to seeing a doctor, and the result of this appointment was to ask the reception desk for a counsellor form.   I found this quite deflating and still felt helpless, so I didn’t seek any further help.”

Kerry later decided to volunteer to develop her own social skills and confidence. She initially got involved with Youth Action Wiltshire, participating in projects such as Young Carers and National Citizen Service.  She then learnt about Young Listeners run in collaboration with Healthwatch Wiltshire.

She explained: “Getting involved in volunteering has helped me immeasurably. Not just with my own issues, but I’ve been able to help other people too. I initially wanted to become a Young Listener because it was an opportunity to give young people in Wiltshire an approachable platform to voice their healthcare concerns, but I’ve gained so much more from it."

“I think the concept of a young person listening to young people is genius! It has this profound way of enabling individuals to feel comfortable and open up about their experiences, where they may not be able to with health professionals."

“I am so grateful for this project. I’ve been given the opportunity to be a part of something so unique and special, alongside a team of brilliant people I knew would support me. This project gave me something to look forward to when my life felt bleak and working towards such an important cause changes all of that."

“Working in the community has put me on a path I can see myself doing as a career and I have an infinite amount of thanks and respect for everyone involved in the co-ordination of this project.”

Three recent articles on Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services in Wiltshire are still available:

1)  The system is changing.
2)  How Wiltshire is changing the system.
3)  How Marlborough schools respond to mental health issues.