Mental health professionals who do not involve young people in their treatment are to be "shamed" in a new charity campaign.
According to children's mental health charity YoungMinds, 97% of mental health professionals, parents and young people believe children should have a say in their treatment. But despite this, the charity says very few are given a chance to contribute. When professionals overlook young people's opinions and concerns when treating them for a mental illness, they seriously underestimate the individual involved, it says. The charity wants to put pressure on workers to make sure young people are consulted. "Young people in general are not always listened to and their views are not always taken into consideration in society in general," says Sarah Brennan, chief executive of YoungMinds. "There is something about having a mental health problem that exacerbates that even more and somehow they are not seen as able to make a reasonable judgement, but of course they can."
Not including a young person in his or her treatment could have a detrimental effect on their health, caused by increased anxiety, refusal to take medications, and distrust of future professionals. She adds that young people are especially affected by the stigma surrounding mental health and should be made to feel comfortable when talking with professionals. The charity, which works with child and adolescent mental health services around the country, wants to launch a national program that will provide training and information, set standards and raise awareness among mental health professionals of the need to include young people in their treatment.
Amy Shaw (not her real name), 13, is part of the children's panel Very Important Kids and advises the charity on mental health issues. Shaw has been receiving treatment for the past year and said she still does not really understand why she needs to take the drugs she does or what they do to help.
"It would be great if there was somewhere that told young people more about medications and different treatments," Shaw says. "Even if a child has a disability or a mental health problem it doesn't mean they are dumb and that they don't understand, it just means they may not take it all in at once and may need it explaining to them again."
David Cottrell, consultant psychiatrist and a psychology lecturer at the University of Leeds, says the inability to include them marks a failure that should be looked at and changed.
"Sometimes professionals just get it wrong and you have to accept that sometimes happens," Cottrell says. "The treatment of young people with mental health needs has been changing, and for the better, but there is definitely still room for improvement."
According to Cottrell, a professional not only has to satisfy the needs of the young person receiving the treatment, but must also take into account the desires of their parents, which are often different and hard to reconcile.
"Many of the young people are in conflict with the adults in their lives and can't agree on the same form of treatment," Cottrell says. "Professionals can try and facilitate discussion between them to understand different points of view, but ultimately, it's the parents who have the final decision."
YoungMinds says that while there is a lot of good practice being carried out, the new campaign would raise awareness about the importance of talking all young people through their treatment, from start to finish.
"If young people understand what's happening they are much more likely to feel a sense of control over their treatment and it can help their success considerably," Brennan says. "If they understand what is going to happen and the consequences of not doing it, they are far more likely to follow the care pathway."
Shaw says a child of any age or ability should be able to decide on their treatment if they are able to understand the seriousness of a condition they may have.
"I think it is very unfair to put a young person in a position where you are choosing their life steps because you think they are incapable," Shaw says. "If most doctors had the patience to sit and listen for a little longer, they would realise that they are underestimating these children."