Little things can make a big difference when it comes to mental health conditions, as the children’s ward at Yeovil Hospital is finding out.

A new initiative has seen the introduction of self-care kits. Children and teens on the ward create something personal to them, that they can keep and use in times of need as a distraction and way to manage their desire to self-harm. It starts with a box which they can decorate on their own, with a staff member or relative. They are then able to talk with the adult and work together to select items that will be a good distraction when they are struggling.

The items vary from patient to patient but include pots of slime, squishy toys, positive quotes, essential oils, mindfulness colouring books and more. The contents of the boxes are aimed at soothing the five senses and promote self sooth techniques. Parents are also able to add items from home too but it is much more than just the items themselves. The whole process starts a conversation where families are able to rebuild that communication. It also gives staff a way of confronting the issue in a positive way, developing trust between the child/teen and clinical staff.

Paediatric nursery nurse Charlotte Drayton introduced individualised self-care kits after becoming more and more aware of the challenges some of the patients face.

Charlotte said: “When I started on Ward 10 my role was more focused on our younger admissions and assisting with their care. Whilst this is still a significant part of the role, In the eight years I have been here the role has developed as has that of my colleagues on the ward. We have observed an increase in the number of mental health admissions affecting children and young people.

“Mental health is still a taboo subject for many and it can be extremely challenging for the whole family, so anything we can do to support these patients, especially during that interim period while they wait for a CAHMs referral or intervention, can be of huge benefit.”

As her role changed, Charlotte was keen to develop her knowledge and skillset, and began a degree course in Child and Adolescent Mental Health. Charlotte added: “Self-harm is a particular challenge for an increasing number of our patients and these kits are about developing ways to manage their condition that they can continue when they leave the ward.

“They are also about rebuilding relationships with family members and giving parents a visible tool. Once a patient goes home, it may be that they are sitting in the living room with a resource from their kit and that could be an indicator for the parent that the child is struggling. Identifying this early allows us to help prevent the escalation to self-harm and can be extremely useful.

“It’s such a simple idea but extremely effective.”

Mental health problems affect around one in ten children and young people. As the numbers of children and teens admitted to Yeovil Hospital’s children’s ward for mental health conditions increases every year, the team is continually looking at ways to improve the care they receive.

Feedback from patients has been extremely positive with one writing a note to staff. She asked not to be named but said: “It was great fun to decorate the box (and a great distraction too)! I enjoyed getting the little bits to go inside the box and as I am leaving soon, I’m looking forward to taking it along with me as I’m going to need some distractions for the next few months.”

The self-care kits have been funded by a donation from the Yeovil Hospital League of Friends as well as the hospital itself, with the boxes kindly being provided by local firm Able Box.

With half of all mental health conditions established before the age of 14, it is believed that early intervention may prevent problems escalating. The UK has the one of the highest rates of self-harm in Europe at 400 per 100,000 people.

Worried about your child’s mental health?

If you think your child is troubled about something or may have a mental health issue, the most important thing to remember is not to panic.

Every child is unique and there is no formula or one set of symptoms, but if you’re concerned, it’s always worth seeking professional help.

Young children may not always have the words to express what’s bothering them.

Here are some common behaviours and signs you can look out for, which may indicate that further support might be needed for your child:

  • Sudden or extreme changes in behaviour, such as becoming very withdrawn and uncommunicative, or alternatively lashing out and becoming boisterous or even violent
  • Expressing negative thoughts, or a particularly low opinion of themselves, for example that they’re a ‘bad’ child
  • Provoking or lashing out at other children
  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Strong desire to avoid school or stay with you at all times
  • Complaining of aches and pains

Of course, there could be some other perfectly reasonable explanation why your child might be showing one or more of the above signs, which has nothing to do with their mental health.

Ask yourself whether the behaviour is out of character for your child, and consider whether there is anything obvious that might have upset them, for example, divorce, bereavement, friendship problems or illness.

If you’re worried, you can talk to your child. Try to find a way of bringing up the conversation without putting pressure on them, perhaps during a car journey or, for younger children, when you’re playing with them. This can help them to open up naturally.

If you’re still concerned, the best thing you can do is talk to someone – your GP can recommend local organisations who can offer support

Helping children stay mentally well

The emotional wellbeing of children is just as important as their physical health. Good mental health allows children and young people to develop the resilience to cope with whatever life throws at them and grow into well-rounded, healthy adults.

Things that can help keep children and young people mentally well include:

  • being in good physical health, eating a balanced diet and getting regular exercise
  • having time and the freedom to play, indoors and outdoors
  • being part of a family that gets along well most of the time
  • going to a school that looks after the wellbeing of all its pupils
  • taking part in local activities for young people.

Other factors are also important, including:

  • feeling loved, trusted, understood, valued and safe
  • being interested in life and having opportunities to enjoy themselves
  • being hopeful and optimistic
  • being able to learn and having opportunities to succeed
  • accepting who they are and recognising what they are good at
  • having a sense of belonging in their family, school and community
  • feeling they have some control over their own life
  • having the strength to cope when something is wrong (resilience) and the ability to solve problems.

Most children grow up mentally healthy, but surveys suggest that more children and young people have problems with their mental health today than 30 years ago. That’s probably because of changes in the way we live now and how that affects the experience of growing up.

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