What mental health support is there for young people in Sussex?

Courtesy of the YMCA. Young person is pictured as a model only. Photo by Simon O'Connor Photography.
Courtesy of the YMCA. Young person is pictured as a model only. Photo by Simon O'Connor Photography.

More than 11,000 children and young people accessed community mental health services in Sussex this year.

Mental health support can be needed at any age.

Courtesy of the YMCA. Young person is pictured as a model only. Photo by Simon O'Connor Photography.

Courtesy of the YMCA. Young person is pictured as a model only. Photo by Simon O'Connor Photography.

‘Kara’ was 13 when she was referred to a counselling service at her school.

Her parents had split up earlier in the year and her behaviour had become disruptive, sometimes aggressive towards other students and staff.

Talking to a YMCA dialogue counsellor, Kara was able to express how she had witnessed domestic violence between her parents. Both she and her brother had been directly involved at times.

The counselling gave Kara a safe, confidential and respectful space to express her feelings about what she’d been through and her relationships with her family.

By the end of counselling, Kara reported feeling less angry, having higher self esteem and feeling more settled at home.

‘Kara’ is one of around 11,000 children and young people referred each year to NHS funded community services in Sussex for support with mental health.

Those services, many of which are charitable, help with very real struggles from eating disorders and abuse to struggles with anxiety, relationships and self-esteem.

We spoke to volunteers, clinicians and therapists about the challenges young people face today and how timely and appropriate support can set those young people on a better path through life.

The right support at the right time

Alison Wallis is the clinical lead for the Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, the body that manages CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services).

The trust had around 10,200 referrals in the last year (April 2018 to April 2019). Of those, around 6,000 children and young people were referred to community NHS services within the trust.

CAMHS caters for moderate to severe needs but in some cases the service asks other partners to help.

Alison said the best care for a young person may well be from another organisation, although she understood the referral process could be ‘quite difficult’ for families.

“It’s quite confusing, it feels as if their case is being bounced around but actually we’re looking for the best place to meet their needs,” she said.

“I think [having multiple providers] can be a real strength.

“There’s something about being able to meet people’s needs in as timely a way as possible.”

Typical presentations to CAMHS will be issues such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, eating disorders – young people where the difficulties are impacting on their daily lives.

As is the case nationally, the trust has said it is facing a ‘significant, sustained increase in demand’ which is putting pressure on services.

An independent review is due to be published looking at the services available to children and young people requiring emotional and wellbeing support across Sussex and how they could be improved.

Alison said there was a need to think carefully about how to get a better support level for people using mental health services, from mild cases up to the moderate and severe level.

“Over the last few years, I think there’s been more awareness raised and so people are much more aware that children and young people have mental health problems, that they’re not just going through a phase – it’s being taken more seriously, which of course is what should be happening,” she said.

“I think what hasn’t been taken up is our capacity.

“I’m all in favour of better awareness. “We need to think about it like physical issues, say if you had a cold or flu.

“You might be struggling with anxiety but it’s not at a level that impacts on your daily life.

“That’s not saying that it’s not a problem just because you don’t have a CAHMS service, it’s about saying we have identified this as an issue.”

Access to services, she said, was part of improvements needed in rural areas, such as in East Sussex, where services can be very spread out.

The Sussex Partnership Trust has secured a boost of £9.4million over two years from the NHS to support mental health services.

Part of that work is a plan for six Mental Health Support Teams (MHSTs) in schools across Sussex to provide one-to-one and group psychological support, working with families and building on existing support for children and young people.

West Sussex County Council’s Youth Emotional Support (YES) team also aims to help with a mix of one-to-one and group support.

The free service for 11 to 18 year olds, which has around 2,500 referrals a year, aims to provide to a community-based, young person-centred approach.

It aims to help with issues including anxiousness, mood, relationship issues, self-injury and unhelpful thoughts.

Paul Marshall, West Sussex County Council cabinet member for children and young people, said: “The team make sure those who are struggling don’t feel alone and get the help they need so they can work to overcome the issues they face.”

What young people are facing and how to help

The YMCA Downslink Group is one of the largest providers of mental health care for young people in Sussex. It has centres in Brighton, Crawley, Eastbourne and Hailsham, Hastings, Horsham and Worthing. The team’s work includes community-based counselling services and counselling in schools and support for children going through the adoption services.

We asked what the most common issues were for young people they see and what is being done to help them.

What are the most common issues presented by young people?

“The most common issues commonly presented in young people are anxiety and low mood. This is often linked to family relationships and separation, bullying and low self esteem.

– Cat Prichard, wellbeing and therapeutic services manager and Lisa Witherden, West Sussex therapeutic services manager

“Sadly, self harm and suicidal thoughts are also becoming more common as presenting issues, more so in older young people, but also in younger children too.”

– Anita Barnard, therapeutic services manager and clinical lead

Are there any services YMCA DLG is looking to expand?

“YMCA DLG recognise that mental health interventions need to develop and grow with the population.

“In response to this we are developing a range of digital interventions that allow young people to have a choice in how they, and where they, access mental health support.

“This includes our e-wellbeing service, expanding our online counselling and online psychoeducation offer.

“We also increasingly understand the growing importance of ‘social prescribing schemes’ for young people – meaning we appreciate the need to focus on connecting young people with their communities and working on all areas of their physical health and wellbeing to improve mental health outcomes.”

– Cat Prichard and Lisa Witherden

Are there any areas of growing importance linked to mental health?

“The importance of early intervention, particularly for children and young people, cannot be over emphasised with structured early intervention being essential.

“This includes social prescribing that emphasises the importance of relationship building and good physical health and its associated impact on mental health.

“As well as providing robust and accessible crisis support for young people when they need it.”

– Cat Prichard

“Parental support is also key – helping parents to understand the reasons for their child’s behaviour and what they can do to support their child” – Anita Barnard

What can be done for people suffering with mental health?

“One of the most important factors is to ensure the voice of the individual is listened to and valued.

“At YMCA DLG we look to help young people understand why they are feeling the way they’re feeling, listening to them, understanding with empathy and without judgement, and helping them with resources and strategies to cope more positively.” – Cat Prichard

“It is also important to treat every young person as an individual.

“We recognise that it is not easy for a young person to open up about their concerns and we ensure all our therapeutic services are tailored to the individual young person – considering aspects such as the kind of therapy they need, where and when they want to be seen and who they would like to be seen by.” – Lisa Witherden

“If you are experiencing mental health difficulties, it’s important to remember that opening up to someone you trust is an important first step in a journey that we know may not always be easy.

“Anyone approaching YMCA DLG services can be reassured that we are here to listen and to help.” – Cat Prichard

To find out more about YMCA DLG’s work on homelessness prevention, mental health services and counselling, education and training and advice and support services visit www.ymcadlg.org.

For support with abuse related issues, contact the Survivors Network, or the Lifecentre counselling service lifecentre.uk.com.

You can find out more about support for people who have suffered rape or sexual violence here:

‘You’re not alone’ – supporting survivors of rape and sexual abuse in Sussex