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Children’s Mental Health Week: Express Yourself

It is Children’s Mental Health Week (1-7 February) this week, an opportunity to focus the spotlight on the importance of children and young people’s mental health. Now in its seventh year, this year’s theme is ‘Express yourself’, encouraging children to explore the different ways they can express themselves. In the February blog, we feature some of the many pieces of artwork and poems our Young People have created to mark this awareness week, and here, Ali Curtis, CAMHS Service Lead at Cygnet Hospital Sheffield, describes how the hospital embraces self-expression.

Self-expression is an integral part of our lives and directly linked to an individual’s mental health. One of the things that we actively promote here in Cygnet Hospital Sheffield is supporting young people to be who they are, whether that involves their gender identity, sexual orientation, diet, religion, or culture.

For example, if a young person identifies as a boy and uses male pronouns, then we will use the male pronouns regardless of what it says in the paperwork. We respect who they are. There is no question around it. Unfortunately, many young people coming into the hospital have not always experienced that.

Some have experienced the situation where their parents do not understand them, or they’ve been a victim of bullying in school. Sometimes, it hard for them to understand who they really are. Young people often tell us that they feel safe going through those journeys here because they can be open about their choices and are respected for who they are.

According to the Mental Health Foundation, people identifying as LGBT are more likely to experience a range of mental health problems such as depression, suicidal thoughts, self-harm etc, and the higher prevalence of mental health issues can be attributed to a wide range of factors such as discrimination, isolation, prejudice and, homophobia.

We do not tolerate racist, homophobic, or offensive language in our team. If a young person says something offensive in any way, we will help them to understand why that’s not acceptable.

On every CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) ward in Cygnet Health Care, we encourage young people to express themselves through weekly community meetings. These are chaired by a young person and are attended by all staff including nurses, doctors, kitchen staff and maintenance. Young people usually take a lead from setting out the agenda to deciding roles in the meeting. We make sure that every young person has an identified role, if they want to do this, so that everyone is included.

Community meetings have been successful here for many years and they are very well received, not just by young people but by all staff working in the hospital. We always make sure young people’s voices are heard and we respond to the issues they raise as soon as possible. A community meeting is a great way to get things done.

At Cygnet Hospital Sheffield, we also have a monthly event called ‘Star of the Month’ where young people nominate a member of staff who has gone “above and beyond” for them and we award a little trophy, certificate and of course, chocolate! Working in the mental health sector can often be very challenging and it is very nice for us to hear positive feedback directly from our Young People.

Alongside community meetings, we organise a number of activities to encouraging our young people to express themselves and to understand others. These include individual music workshops and karaoke sessions, painting and poetry. Music is sometimes the only way that young people can express their feelings, and it’s especially helpful as they build relationships with staff in the early days. We are also redecorating one of our wards and the colours and designs have come entirely from our young residents.

I believe that helping young people express who they really are and respecting their choices needs to be the absolute basis of what we do, and it is such a crucial part of their recovery journey.

Below are some of many artworks and poems that Young People at Cygnet Hospital Sheffield created for Children’s Mental Health Week. Pointing to a painting she has created, one of our Young People from Pegasus ward, said: “I’m expressing myself and making others smile at the same time! I’m excited that Children’s Mental Health Week is encouraging more people like me to have a voice.”

Click on the images to enlarge.

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