What’s worrying you?


Kathryn Ward, Engagement Manager
Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing

This week it has been reported that head-teachers of schools and academies across the country view the mental health of students as one of their most worrying concerns.  There has also been an announcement that the government is seeking to increase children’s mental health provision.  Lord Prior, minister for NHS productivity, said the government is committed to “parity of esteem” between physical and mental health. And in a separate Commons debate, children and families minister Edward Timpson admitted “more action is required” to improve school-based mental health support.

Reading these reports, I have reflected on the mental health work that the Centre has already undertaken in Surrey and personally as the parent of a teenager.  A mental health crisis can often leave young people feeling isolated and unaware of services that can help and they often enter the health system at crisis point. I asked myself what information needs to flow between the student, parent/carer, academy/school and the health service to provide information and emotional support for young people in mental health crisis.

The Centre’s work in Surrey and across policy areas such as troubled families, ending gang and youth violence and multi-agency sharing hubs has highlighted that mental health is often a significant issue for families and young people.  Information sharing across mental health services can be difficult, as patient information can be highly sensitive and confidential.  Surrey has overcome this by establishing safe havens were people with mental health needs can go to receive support. The safe havens have a range of staff working in them, and they have access to relevant patient information. By working together and establishing professional relationships, this ability to share information quickly has supported people in crisis to get the help and support that they need.

My daughter’s Academy has recognised the importance of mental health well-being for all their students and is working with Lancashire NHS Foundation to promote mental well- being and reduce the stigma of mental health issues for students. The Foundation has an established telephone helpline and mobile phone text service which are being promoted to students and parents.

The aims of the services are to:

  • Empower callers through information to make their own choices about how their mental  health care needs can be met;
  • Provide immediate emotional support for anyone experiencing distress;
  • Provide mental health information and offer details of local and national services/support groups

The trained operators have access to over 800 local and national services and support groups. The Helpline is a confidential service and everything that is discussed with the caller is treated as confidential unless certain safeguarding, illegal or terrorism statements apply.

To help me understand the issues affecting young people and where they would go for help I asked my daughter and her friends to draw an eco-map, documenting who they would go to for support and information, if they were concerned about their own mental health or someone they knew. Here is what they came up with:


Unbeknown to my daughter and her friends, when drawing this map, they highlighted the complexities of how many people and services there are to help, and how complex it can be to share information to ensure that young people get the right help and support.

How would services ensure that they get information from a family member or staff member, which would really help to provide the right intervention?

This information sharing complexity relates to the model of the network of human and social environments. The network model is well documented and used across Early Years Programmes and can evidence that higher human capital produces better education and health outcomes and reduces crime. But what is ‘social capital’ and how do these models and concepts relate to information sharing?  Social capital was defined by Robert Putnam (2000), a political scientist:

“…. connections among individuals – social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them”

As part of the Transience work in Blackpool, family support workers ask for individual’s consent to ensure that referrals to mental health services contain only relevant information. The Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing is supporting Blackpool, to look at the impact of these consent based referrals.  Services across Blackpool want to identify the impact of consent based information sharing on improving outcomes for local families and people receiving mental health support. They want to identify barriers, if any, to sharing despite consent being given from individuals.

So in terms of information sharing to support young people in mental health crisis, young people have identified that having strong and well established family and community social capital is important. Through the eco-map drawing they identified family and school structure as important in asking for help and support.  Across all information sharing work, It is important to take the individuals own perspective on who they seek and pass information onto, the results speak for themselves; the different support networks within the school environment play a vital role in offering that first line contact, it is worth noting for this group of teenagers the wider health service did not feature at all as part of their recognised teenage support system.  Going forward, it is important that the students are at the heart of the process, drawing together the relevant information from families, teachers and clinicians to deliver improved outcomes