Conference hears heart-wrenching tales of mental health service experiences

Youth council members Vikki Versey (right) and Elise Page at UCS for the mental health conference

Youth council members Vikki Versey (right) and Elise Page at UCS for the mental health conference

Mental health service users gave heart-wrenching accounts of their experiences at a conference looking at wide-ranging aspects of children’s wellbeing.

The delegates at UCS for the children's mental health conference organised by Norfolk & Suffolk NHS

The delegates at UCS for the children's mental health conference organised by Norfolk & Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust.

Key speakers at the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust’s event yesterday drew on personal stories to highlight calls for improvements.

The University Campus Suffolk conference had been organised by Trust governors to “recognise the good work that is being done” while “not glossing over the flaws”.

Suffolk Youth Council member Vikki Versey, 19, gave a candid account of her 10-year journey through the mental health system.

She told of how the trauma of family breakdown started a spiral of mental decline culminating in self-harm, eating disorders and attempts to take her own life.

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While she described her care co-ordinator as “the most wonderful person I’ve ever met”, not all her experiences with the mental health services were said to have been positive. She said it took three hospital admissions before her mental health was deemed a cause for concern. Even then she was at times left feeling as though she had “nowhere to turn”. Today, she has turned her life around, and is using her experiences to help others, saying: “The thought of changing one person’s life is enough of a reason for me to live.”

Anne Humphrys and Bec Jasper, of Parents and Carers Together (PACT), gave a family perspective on the services in Suffolk and Norfolk. Mrs Humphrys, whose teenage daughter has attempted suicide, was particularly critical about what she termed “family ping pong” – the passing of patients from one branch of the health service to another.

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“Imagine what it’s like simply wanting to get your child the help they need and being passed from one agency to another with each of them saying this aspect isn’t their responsibility,” she said.

Senior Trust members admitted there had been shortcomings though they made positive assurances about new approaches that were taking shape.

Hope for the future of services

Mental health staff claim new polices will address many of the concerns raised by service users.

Kathryn Searle, deputy service manager for the east Suffolk NSFT, said the move to a “single point of access” would address many of “family ping pong” concerns.

Andy Goff, at Norfolk and Waveney NSFT, highlighted new methods to collect data, which “will help to determine our work with mental health”. “This is the most exciting time in children’s mental health for a generation,” he said.

“We’ve never had such engagement or passion - we’ve never had such interest.”

Get involved

There are numerous ways to get involved in our campaign. They include...

Tell us about your experience of mental health. We would like to hear not only from patients but also from relatives, friends, carers and those who work in the sector.

Highlighting a scheme, project or individual doing something positive to help mental health sufferers.

Letting us know if you are campaigning for specific improvements where you live.

Signing up to the pledge on our website.

Tweet your support and views using #mentalhealthwatch

If you want to get involved, email Investigations Editor David Powles at

Research award

A project spearheaded by Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) to improve mental health services for black and minority ethnic communities has highly commended at a national awards ceremony and there are plans to extend its reach.

The Open Mind initiative was recognised in the ‘equality and diversity in service delivery’ category of the National Positive Practice in Mental Health Awards 2015. NSFT was one of just three trusts to be shortlisted for the award from a field of 14 entries. Following its success in Suffolk, the next step will be to roll out the project across Norfolk.

Open Mind was launched in September 2014 in response to research which showed people from a black and ethnic minority community can have more adverse experiences and negative outcomes within mental health care.

Its aim has been to give diverse local communities a chance to make their voices heard so that services can be shaped to meet their specific needs.

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