When it comes to mental health, we need to do more than talk — we need to carefully consider how we listen effectively with compassion
Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week and Time to Talk Day fall in the same week and I am delighted to be devoting this blog to these two areas. But I want to give attention to compassionate listening that comes with talking.
I recently did a piece of research (Lingo) into communication about mental health between children and young people and adults and professionals. I’ll attach it below as there were many interesting findings. Insights from children and young people showed that adults did not understand them as individuals or how the pressures they encountered impacted on their lives. Insights from adults and professionals showed they were not fully aware of the anxieties, pressures and fears encountered by children and young people; they did not know how to have an effective conversation when a child or young person approached them to talk about their mental health.
Whilst a group of people may have anxiety or experience pressure over the same thing, the way it is experienced is different in everyone as part of a diverse society and can be considered as an individualised experience.
This is why when someone talks about their mental health we need to listen compassionately and see the person as an individual to understand how their anxieties and pressures affect them personally.
I remember being 17 and finding out I was pregnant; for reasons out of my control I had to terminate even though this was not the choice I wanted. I was absolutely devastated and struggled to talk to someone; but I do remember spending an hour crying to my A Level Sociology teacher who listened the whole time with compassion and understood how I was suffering.
Whilst he could not do anything about the situation, it meant so much to let it all out and feeling listened to made me feel valued.
But I have been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome and I quite often find it hard to be understood and to get my points across clearly. Not only this but when I was a child I experienced ongoing sexual harassment and then on a separate incident as a child I was raped. I was also physically abused (to the extent I would always be questioned as to wearing jumpers in the summer). I was also raped in 2017 (with successful conviction towards the end of 2018, so still recent). I have also been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Severe Depression after many attempts to end my life to end the re-experiencing of trauma and flashbacks. I struggle to communicate how I am feeling, but I also struggle with trusting people, especially finding someone I trust to talk with to share very intimate anxieties. I was also permanently excluded from school and was sent to a Pupil Referral Unit in which I was also permanently excluded from here for being too intimidating.
Everyone assumed I just behaved badly; in reality I was scared and wanted to protect myself from never being hurt again. But no one wanted to take the time to listen to me as to what was behind it all.
However the NHS Child and Adolescent Mental Health (CAMHS) Team I was under, compassionately listened to what mattered to me and I think the CAMHS team saved my life just in time before going down an alternative path because they listened and understood how I was suffering was an individualised experience.
I think children and young people are talking a lot more about mental health, but I think we need to carefully consider how we listen effectively with compassion.
Amy led a piece of research alongside the Centre, called ‘Lingo’ which provides a modern insight into the difficulties encountered by children and young people when talking about their mental health to adults and professionals. Lingo also looked into what adults and professionals find difficult when a child or young person approaches them to talk about their mental health. There was also an art side to the research that looked into communicating mental health and experiences through nonverbal methods — this was collaborated on with the National Gallery.
Further information can be found here: https://www.annafreud.org/what-we-do/improving-help/resources/lingo/
The full report can be found here: https://www.annafreud.org/media/8610/lingo-booklet-v6-web.pdf
Amy’s work is committed to making a difference and improving quality of life by bringing evidence through her research of engaging with society to ensure people are heard and that there is a powerful compassionate case for change to reduce aspects of health and social suffering and inequalities in society. Further interests are in how social and cultural conditions impact health.
Amy’s the youngest NHS Lead Governor ever to exist and is Lead Governor of Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust. Also Chairman of National Lead Governors Association. Amy also sits on NHS England Youth Forum and is engaged with NHS England Personalised Care Group and is a Stakeholder for NHS England Digital — Online Services in Primary Care as well as being a Young Champion at Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families. 2018, Amy was asked to Chair the Parliamentary Inquiry Panel of Children and Young People’s Rights in Mental Health under the UN Convention of Children’s Rights.
Aged 21, Amy was recognised on the UK’s inaugural Autism and Learning Disability Leaders list 2018 as being one of the top 15 leaders within Work and Education. Amy’s currently studying a Masters in International Social Policy at University of Kent.