Deborah Bone built an “artificial brain” to help children tackle issues around mental health problems. Siobhan O’Neill reports
In 1979, Deborah Bone took an unusual step for a 16-year-old girl: she volunteered to work in an institution founded in the Victorian era. So began her lifelong career in mental health.
Bone began training as a mental health nurse at Fairfield Mental Health Hospital in Stotfold, Bedfordshire, before moving to Luton to finish her studies and going to work on adults’ wards.
After a few years, she left to have a family, returning to a local unit in 1996 to work as a community psychiatric nurse and train as a registered mental nurse. It wasn’t until 2002 that her career went down a new path, becoming a specialist nurse working with 500 young people who were leaving care.
Bone’s role was to promote good mental health in her clients and to help them cope alone in society. “I used the positives that had come out of their experiences to help them move forward and identify the skills they could use,” she says.
Bone knew many of them had experienced hardship: “I was in awe of them – for their strength after the things they’d been through. Many lived alone with no support or family and coped very well. I just gave them 100% and was honest with them.”
Now Bone is an emotional mental health adviser for a primary care trust in the South East, a role she believes is unique.
She initiated the Making a Difference (MAD) Group, which won her a MacQueen Award for Excellence in Practice in 2007. MAD brings together professionals – from teachers to nursery nurses – who work with children and young people to create integrated practices across the board.
More than 50 people are involved with MAD and as frontline staff have become more skilled at coping with the issues they encounter admissions to Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (Camhs) have reduced. Bone shows them more effective ways of working with children, such as quick rapport-building skills. “I’ve heard people say ‘it’s taken me 10 months to build a rapport with him’ but it shouldn’t take more than two minutes,” she says.
Write a book
The MacQueen Award gave her the money to write and develop a book, Sticking Plasters for Children’s Souls – Stories to Improve Emotional and Mental Well-Being, which is illustrated by local children with self-esteem problems. It is about to be published.
Bone and her husband, who works in IT, have also developed an illustrative tool out of recycled computers called the BrainBox.
Relate to the idea
Using a computer as a metaphor for the brain, the BrainBox helps young people – particularly boys – understand what’s going on when they experience emotional and behavioural problems. Children relate to the idea that their brains, like computers, can go wrong and they may need help to re-boot. It shows children how to re-engage the processor or reasoning part of the brain before acting. It has proved effective and the Bones are hoping to put the tool into production.
Bone uses a system called Lambss (love, autonomy, meaning, belonging, status and security) to understand young people’s problems. She asks the children to fill cups to illustrate how much of each of these elements are met. “To be emotionally and mentally healthy we need our emotional needs met in balance.”
Bone relishes her work and she is optimistic for the future of Camhs, which she says has had a poor press. “But we were working with limited resources that meant we couldn’t be creative in our approach,” she says. “Now that the government is putting the funding in we can have the manpower to take services into schools and other places young people meet, rather than being limited to a clinical setting. It’s much more effective.”
- More about the Brainbox tool
This article is published in the 23 October 2008 edition of Community Care under the headline “Bone’s brainbox beats the blues”