To Anyone Considering Working with Mentally Ill Young People

Dear Doctor, Psychiatrist, Occupational Therapist, Nurse, Manager, Health Care Assistant. Or the soon-to-be any of the above.

So you want to work with young people with mental health problems? Or maybe you already do. Welcome to the wonderful world of child and adolescent mental health services.

You are likely to be, or have been, met by a group of young people. Some of whom will be kind and nice to you and some of whom will not. But don’t rule any of them out just yet. Because even the nicest, kindest and friendliest person on this ward will have days where their illness gets in the way of being just that. Mental illness blocks the light and makes pleasantries difficult sometimes. If you are boasting that your experience is all based upon having survived being a teenager yourself- stop. We are ‘average teenagers’ minus the ability to ‘get it together’. We are average teenagers with acute and chronic illness that -were it anywhere else in the body- would lead to hospital tubes and wires. Today the young people are ignoring you, but please don’t take it personally. They aren’t ignoring you- they’re trying to ignore the demons you can’t see. Some illnesses can’t be helped by tubes and wires.

You’re going to work long hours with, I won’t lie, people who will sometimes wish you didn’t bother. You’re an OT pushing a new group, a psychiatrist cutting a medication, a nurse saying no to leave and a HCA pushing dinner. You will be sworn at. You will be insulted. But we need you to keep trying because you can bet that of any group of kids we are the ones who have seen it all. Collectively we’ve had abusers, attackers, family issues, health issues- the works. And if nothing else we have stand alone mental health issues that have bulldozed our lives for a bit. Don’t expect to be told you are doing a good job everyday- but aim to be told you’ve done a good job when your patient goes their own way. You can’t cure us all but you can help us open the box, rearrange the pieces and fill in the gaps.

I wouldn’t fancy your chances in a debate. Especially over issues like suicide. We need you to keep us safe until we can do it for ourselves. One day at a time. If you say something wrong, apologise. If you’re going ‘tough love’ on us don’t be mad when we return it. We’re unreasonable, unlogical and sometimes painfully understanding. It’s you we need to annoy us but not hurt us. Our illnesses are consuming. We need to know that when we shout you will still be back in the morning. We need you to tell us that you are going to do your damnedest to make it okay. If you can’t do this, then you’re in the wrong job. 

… So… Are you in or out? 

4 thoughts on “To Anyone Considering Working with Mentally Ill Young People

  1. This is something people should read and something that is helpful for me to hear myself, as a storyteller who works with young people in the mental health system (as well as very disadvantaged young people who should be getting support from it and aren’t). You are a damn good writer. Thanks for pointing me to your blog.

  2. Everything you say here is full of truth and insight. I think a lot of the same advice applies to parents of teenagers with mental illness. In addition to all the challenges, there are all the positives of having an intelligent, creative young person to share life with.

  3. I am in, as an adult citizen. I am a survivor of abuse as both a child and an adult, so I am not really qualified anymore as a therapist/counselor/doctor/etc. hence the computer programming of the Dragon Search Engine focusing on community mental health. Specifically considering my upbringing, I have never worked with or focused on young people because I know too much about how to do it wrong. I did study gerontology at two universities but I could never stomach the proper professional attitude. Best wishes….cjb

  4. Pingback: Wormwood In The Garden – The Process | Poetry Boots

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