Sheffield Telegraph Voices: Is enough being done to help our young people with their mental health?

Four columnists have given their views on the question: Is enough being done to help Sheffield's young people with their mental health?

Thursday, 1st February 2018, 17:50 pm
Updated Thursday, 1st February 2018, 17:55 pm
Top row L-R: Dominic French, John Offord Bottom row L-R: Ged Flynn, Steve Rippin

'Parents need education and support'

Dominic French, father of Daisy, who took her own life at 16 after a battle with mental illness

Dominic French

Daisy had a diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome and non-organic psychosis.

Daisy’s problems first became known to me when she took a life-threatening amount of paracetamol at the age of 13.

I knew she’d been experiencing problems with bullying at school, but had no idea of the extent of her distress until she took this overdose.

I also found out at this point that she’d been self-harming by cutting her arms and legs, which she had hidden from her mum and me.

John Offord

After this overdose, Daisy became involved with the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) and during the next three years she was admitted to hospital several times.

CAHMS clinicians told me that Daisy had a diagnosis of Asperger’s and psychosis, but I was never told exactly what these were, how they manifested and interacted, or the best ways to deal with it and support her as a parent and carer.

Although I could have asked specific questions, I was often overwhelmed by the situation and I looked things online instead – often getting the wrong, or conflicting, information.

I think parents should be offered psycho-education and support as standard by CAMHS, and where, appropriate, be treated as people who can potentially work alongside mental health professionals in a collaborative way.

Ged Flynn

I don’t think the role of, or the impact on, parents is fully appreciated.

Parents are struggling with the emotional impact of their child’s mental illness, yet acting as a primary carer trying to do their best with limited information and support on a 24/7 basis, dealing with professionals and not feeling involved or having any real control over supporting their own child.

My biggest issue was around medication. Although I understand the role of medication in mental illness, I felt that Daisy was too easily given drugs in place of talking therapy and one-to-one support from professionals.

Medication came with its own problems for Daisy such as considerable weight gain, stiffness in joints, drooling, and tiredness to the point of being zoned out at times.

Steve Rippin

Daisy’s problems started in school, and I’m not sure if teachers have any real training in spotting the signs of mental illness, but Daisy was often called an attention seeker and didn’t get a great deal of support.

I think that comprehensive autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and mental health training should be included in teacher training and as part of on-going training.

Teaching staff often see children more than their parents do, and see them in situations with their peer group. I think children and young people should be taught more about it too.

They have access to a range of information on the internet and we can’t control the information they access, or are given.

Clearly, mental health amongst young people is becoming increasingly worse.

They are our future, and if they grow up without an understanding of, or support for, their own and others’ mental health then surely things will only get worse.

Dominic French

The bottom line is there needs to be parity of esteem, and funding and support in line with this.

'Lack of funding and lack of understanding'

John Offord

While most professionals are doing their best with what they’ve got, it’s becoming more and more apparent that a lack of government funding is effecting mental health care for young people in Sheffield, as well as a lack of understanding.

My brother, Anthony lived in Sheffield all his life and passed away back in 2013. Anthony suffered with mental health problems in his teenage years.

It took longer than it should have done for his illness to be diagnosed and he often had to wait months to get medical attention as services were under resourced.

He encountered many healthcare professionals but only felt properly understood by a few.

Anthony collapsed at a friend’s house after a drinking session, having learned that his father had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Ambulance staff failed to respond to a 999 call in time to save my brother.

All too often healthcare professionals rely on handing out medication and filling out forms rather than doing what young people with mental health issues need, which is someone to talk to and spend time with. In my view support systems simply aren’t designed to deal with individual cases.

GPs need better training to interact with people and realise how difficult it is for someone to even talk to them in the first place. Like it or not, there’s still a stigma in society when it comes to mental health. It’s also worth pointing out that often GPs seem willing to help but don’t know how.

Above all, we need to talk openly about mental health as that’s the only way to improve things in the long run.

We also need to campaign to ensure the government takes young people’s mental health seriously and expand NHS mental health provision (by paying for more staff and providing more resources).

We also need to recognise that NHS staff do an exceptional job of managing people’s complex thoughts and behaviours.

I’m running my first half marathon in Sheffield on April 9 to raise money for Mind. Click here for more details.

'Knowing the signs is vital if we are to save lives'

Ged Flynn, chief executive, PAPYRUS Prevention of Young Suicide

In the UK suicide is the main cause of death of young people under 35 and this includes children. PAPYRUS the national charity for prevention of young suicide believes this is a national scandal.

Every young suicide is a wake-up call to the need to take the mental health of young people more seriously.

We know from our work in the community and through our HOPELineUK services that young people are often at their wits’ end and many of them consider suicide, many try it and too many die.

Many parents and caregivers despair of the revolving door systems that they and their children are put through in services which are often over-stretched or no longer available.

There is always more that can be done by support services. However, we at PAPYRUS believe the mental wellbeing of young people is everyone’s business. Yours, mine, family and friends, neighbours, doctors, teachers, bus drivers, sports coaches, the local shopkeeper – everyone who comes into contact with young people. We must all watch out for indicators.

How do we know if someone is thinking about suicide?

For many young people sharing thoughts of hopelessness or suicide can be incredibly difficult, but there are signs we can look out for.

You might notice that they are feeling hopeless, sad, lonely, angry or worthless. Other indicators include self-neglect, disrupted sleep patterns or loss of appetite. They may be struggling with depression, anxiety or an eating disorder. You may hear ‘I just can’t take it any more’, ‘everyone will be better off without me’, ‘I want to die’.

Are you prepared to ask ‘have you been thinking about suicide?’. You might resist because you think it would put the idea into their head, but it won’t. However, by asking the question, you are telling that person that you are a safe person to talk to: someone who can help.

For more information on how to start the conversation visit If you are a young person feeling suicidal or someone worried about a young person call PAPYRUS HOPELineUK 0800 068 41 41 text 07786 209 697 or email

'Sheffield has been at forefront in schools'

Steve Rippin, Assistant Headteacher, Tapton School

Mental health is now prominent in the public consciousness and on the political agenda in a way we wouldn’t have dreamed of five years ago.

Sheffield has championed children and young people’s mental health and has been at the forefront of recent improvements.

At Tapton School mental health and wellbeing support has improved significantly since the school was involved in the 12-month Healthy Minds pilot in 2015-16.

The programme has now been rolled out to over 50 schools with a view that all schools in Sheffield will have received the training by 2020.

However, serious restraints on school budgets makes it difficult to offer any further support for mental health. National shortcomings for children and young people’s mental health are well documented.

The £1.4 billion promised in the Five Years Forward Plan will only see numbers improve from 25 per cent of CAMHS referrals being seen to 33 per cent.

What would we say if two out of every three A&E patients were refused treatment?

Despite the recent publicity about children’s mental health the Kings Fund recently reported that children and young people’s mental health continues to fair worse than adult mental health.

In 2016-17 children and young people’s funding increased by 2.5 per cent compared to 6 per cent for adult mental health.

What I do see in Sheffield, however, is professionals and volunteers in all areas working hard to support children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing, despite the financial constraints.

The recently published green paper on children and young people’s mental health proposes funding new mental health staffing to bridge the gap between schools and CAMHS.

I am keen to see Sheffield pursue this as I am in no doubt this is the next step and it is important to grab these opportunities.

*As a local newspaper, we have the privileged role of having a voice and a platform through which we can highlight important topics within our community.

And we want to use that platform to shine a spotlight on the mental health problems faced by children and young people in Sheffield.

Our hope is introduce a city-wide initiative that helps to make talking about adolescent mental health less of a taboo, to create awareness of the prevalence of mental health problems among young people and what you can do if you, or someone you know, is struggling.

But we need your help.

We want to gain understanding and insight into the issue through speaking to experts in the field, people working in our health trusts and schools, parents, guardians - and most important of all, by speaking to young people in Sheffield who have experienced or been affected by problems with mental health. Your views on this are so instrumental in ensuring we get this right.

If you think you can help, please get in touch with me by calling: 0114 252 1209 or by emailing me at:

John Offord
Ged Flynn
Steve Rippin