The Trouble with Moody Teens

Hello everyone,

Just to say an interview that i did with Miranda Sawyer earlier this year on young people and depression is airing Friday 11th May at 11:00a.m. on BBC Radio 4.

Here is the synopsis:

In every school class, at least one teenager will need urgent treatment for clinical depression. With thousands of under-16s on anti-depressants, there is concern that mental health problems amongst youngsters are on the rise. So what is the difference between typical teen behaviour and something more serious?

Presenter Miranda Sawyer hears from young people who speak frankly about their thoughts and feelings, often hidden from those around them. She talks to parents, teachers and experts to find out what are the first signs that a teenager is suffering from clinical depression – and asks why it is sometimes so difficult to spot those early symptoms.

In this programme, teenagers speak about the increasing pressures of growing up today – from school, home and friends – and Miranda asks why do some teenagers cope with these pressures whilst others spiral down into depression? How much are social networking and today’s economic climate to blame and how much of the illness is hereditary?

At school, some teachers may dismiss early signs of depression as bad behaviour or lack of attention in class, but increasingly secondary schools like Bradley Stokes near Bristol have a specialist unit and strategies in place to identify vulnerable pupils and refer them early for psychological help.

Often social stigma and guilt make it difficult for teenagers and parents to come forward and GPs may initially put problems down to adolescence, while child and adolescent mental health services (CAHMS) can be patchy and oversubscribed. Miranda investigates the treatment available and finds out how charities like Young Minds support both teenagers with mental health problems and worried parents.

Mental health, GPs and young people

This morning i called up my doctor’s surgery to get a much needed appointment with a GP. For most this is a task that needs little if any thought. For me however it can be a potential minefield.

What’s more when i called up i was informed that my appointment would be with a new doctor, not one that i had met before or had any experience of. Accepting the appointment, was for me, a pretty big gamble.

I’ll explain. I have had mental health problems to some level or another for most of my life and i have been using mental health services for coming up to nine years now. I have almost endless experience of all sorts of medical professionals from psychiatrists to nurses and everything in between.

Obviously as a UK resident my first port of call when it comes to health (both physical and mental) is my GP. GPs often feel like the gatekeepers to other services and organisations and i have always felt that it is vital to have a good working relationship with them.

However when it comes to mental health nothing is ever so simple. I would like to say that i have had predominantly good experiences but this is not the case.

I think the problem comes, to some extent from a combination of two factors: the fact that this is mental health and that i am a young person. Apparently these two things mean it is often harder for me not only to access the treatment i need but also to have problems recognised at all.

I wish i could say that i was alone in this experience but unfortunately that is far from the truth. I have spoken to countless other service users young and old about their experiences of GPs and they very much mirror my own. I wish i could tell you that young people weren’t told that their conditions were “a phase”/hormones/attention seeking/manipulative. Eating disorders are seen as a fad or a diet gone to far, depression dismissed. And if you were told this after opening up about something deeply personal that you may have not ever shared before, do you think you would go back or try and get a second opinion? I know i would think twice. I know it is a hard fact to stomach that some children and young people suffer from severe mental health problems but we can’t ignore or it deny these people help because it makes us uncomfortable.

All the evidence shows that a huge proportion of adults that have a mental health condition report symptoms starting in adolescence and the power of early intervention, as shown especially in EIiP (Early Intervention in Psychosis) services, cannot be denied.

And yet we still struggle to get our voices heard and to be taken seriously.

GPs need training not only in how to spot the warning signs of mental distress in children and young people but also need to be educated on atypical presentations (we don’t all neatly fit into diagnostic boxes) and a more holistic and open approach to young people.

Luckily today was a positive experience. In spite of all my anxiety in the run up to the appointment i was seen by a doctor that listened to me, took my opinions and preferences into account and made me feel relaxed.
It is just unfortunate that i can’t say that more often.

VIKs attend an international conference

Late last year the VIK Project was approach by Careif (The Centre for Applied Research and Evaluation International Foundation). We were asked if we wanted to appear at an international conference on Cultural Psychiatry in London. Of course, never ones to turn down a challenge, we said yes immediately and began working on what we thought was important to present; especially knowing that we are usually one of very few if not the only service user voice at large conferences. It was exciting to be offered the opportunity to present at a conference of this size and to delegates from literally all over the world and we did not want to disappoint.

So several months including a couple of VIK days were spent carefully planning with ideas coming left, right and centre from a large steering group of VIKs and VIRs.

And then it came time for the conference itself..

3rd World Cultural Congress of Cultural Psychiatry
10-11th March 2012
Queen Mary, University of London


Firstly two VIKs including myself attended a symposia. Here several pieces of research from around the world were presented to us and we had to give our opinions and comments on the issues put forward. Luckily we had been given abstracts of the papers presented before the conference as there were some amazing pieces of research and a lot to get our head around.

We decided early on in the planning stages that as we had been given something akin to free reign over what we did and presented at the conference we decided we would trial an idea that had been buzzing around the group for awhile; a chill out zone.

Our chill out zone was located away from all the noise and commotion of the main conference and was a room, run by young people, for visitors to the conference to escape to for a cup of tea, some crafts and a conversation with young people about mental health services and psychiatry.  As one of our VIKs said the chill out room is meant to be “a place of fun and relaxation whilst enabling us to share first hand our own personal experience and journeys of living with mental illness”.

We also met some very interesting people including an author; Bhanu Kapil, who gave us a signed copy of her new book “Schizophrene”.

Bhanu Kapil

Bhanu Kapil with VIKs in our chill out room


On Sunday we were back again although unfortunately i was not able to attend. Once again a team of VIKs ran a chill out zone and they also delivered a workshop on Participation for a small group of international delegates.

The workshop involved personal stories of young people’s experiences of participation or more often the lack of it in youth mental health services.

After sharing some of our experiences the professionals attending the workshop were asked to discuss what barriers young people might face in getting involved and participating.

We then went on to give a short “Participation 101” where we explained the YoungMinds 3D Participation model; a model of practice developed by young people for young people along with several other tips, thoughts and discussion points.

Overall we have received a huge amount of positive feedback about every aspect of our involvement in this event and i think i can safely say on behalf of all the VIKs that not only attended the conference but helped in the build up with, designing, developing, running and supporting us.

I will leave you with the same words that Annabelle, one of our VIKs, gave the delegates during the closing ceremony:

“I think I can speak on behalf of everyone that has represented Young Minds this weekend, when I say that if we can alter the life and care of one person somewhere in the world in a positive way by our involvement in shaping services and attitudes, by standing up and speaking out then it’s worth it. The VIK participation project has been for many of us a silver lining to the very black cloud that is mental illness; and I’m delighted to say on behalf of VIK thank you for inviting us, and on behalf of young people across the world thank you for showing you care”.