How can the mental health needs of looked-after young people be
better identified and treated?
I have heard young people in a children’s home say that it’s “not
cool” to be involved with mental health services or that “the
mental health idiots just mess with your head”. This clearly
indicates that mental health services are too inflexible and
The venues where services are provided are often far from ideal.
Young people find themselves in clinical surroundings where they
are expected to divulge their most intimate thoughts, feelings and
traumatic experiences to a stranger.
If the young person does not establish a meaningful relationship
within the predetermined time scale, sessions and help are
terminated. But why must therapeutic relationships be formed at
such an accelerated pace? It is generally accepted that forming a
meaningful relationship is a time-consuming process. Yet for some
reason, there is an expectation that some of the most damaged
people will form a meaningful relationship with a professional in
just a few hours over a matter of weeks. As a result the
professionals only glean a fragmented insight into the extent of
the person’s behaviour and the reasons for them.
To pave the way for more desirable services, the settings need to
be more child and young person centred. A solution could be for
health and social services to foster a more integrated approach,
and set up residential care homes where children and young people
can receive social, educational, and therapeutic input.
There is also an issue over the measures needed to ensure that
young people do not develop a destructive dependency on social and
health care workers. I have spoken to a large number of people who
I have met who readily admit their “system addiction”. They say
that they felt like a guinea pig, as if their every emotion,
thought, feeling and behaviour trait was being dissected and
over-analysed. Despite being resentful of this, they also feel
comforted and insulated by the concern shown by social services and
mental health teams.
I can relate to this, as I feel that the social and health services
I am involved with have somehow stolen my sense of self. I allowed
the system to take away the core of my identity and the
consequences of this have been profound. I am fearful of
establishing and building relationships with non-professional
people and become anxious about the very thought of intimacy.
Heidi Emma Osborne is a care leaver.