Mental Health Awareness Week at GOSH

If you’re visiting Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) between 13 – 19 May, you’ll notice the hospital looking a little different than usual. That’s because we’re lighting up some of our buildings with green light, as part of our support for Mental Health Awareness Week.

The initiative is organised by the Mental Health Foundation, and it’s part of a range of activities we’ll be putting on across the hospital. We’ll have everything from practical advice on ‘Overcoming Fears & Phobias’ and our GOSH Arts Temporary tattoo parlour for resilience, to support and mindfulness sessions for staff during this important week. 

Lee Hudson, Consultant in the Child & Adolescent Mental Health Service at GOSH, explains why supporting the wellbeing of our patients and their families is a vital part of the work we do: 

What is mental health?

Everybody: adults, young people and children all have ‘mental health’. Mental health is our emotional and psychological wellbeing at any one time. It can be good or can be bad at different times, just as for physical health. Every one of us will face challenges that affect our mental health at some point in our lives – in particular when difficult events happen. Mental health can be affected by physical health problems, just as our physical health can be affected by how we’re feeling mentally. So we shouldn’t separate physical and mental health, as the two go hand in hand. That said, mental health doesn’t have to become worse because something specific has happened, it can also change for no apparent reason. This can sometimes be hard to explain to others, meaning that people don’t feel like they can ask for help and get the support and treatments they need. Stigma and shame around mental health is a huge problem, and although this has got better in recent times, we still have a long way to go and need to challenge this stigma wherever we find it. Normalising mental health problems is the best way to do this, because they are exactly that: common to everyone.

What is mental illness or a mental health disorder?

Sometimes a change in our mental health becomes so significant in how it affects our lives, that it is classed as an illness or a disorder, such as depression or anxiety. Mental health disorders in children and young people are relatively common in the UK. A recent survey in England showed that 1 in 8 children aged 5 - 19 years have a mental health disorder. This has been shown to be higher with increasing age, with a quarter of 17-19 year-olds having a mental health disorder (source: NHS Digital).

The good news is that there are really effective treatments for mental health conditions, and most people can get better. But this all depends on people (adults, young people and children) feeling able to talk about their problems, that problems are picked up, and that treatments are available and delivered.

Mental health services at GOSH

At GOSH we look after many children and young people with complex medical conditions, often with more than one physical health problem. We know that rates of mental health problems can be higher for those patients, as well as for their families. Supporting the mental health and psychological wellbeing of our patients and their families is therefore a vital part of the work we do at GOSH. We pride ourselves on working closely with families and together with other teams across the hospital.

GOSH has a range of skilled professionals working in mental health (for example psychologists, psychiatrists and family therapists) who work in lots of different areas of the hospital. Some of the work we do is supporting patients and their families with complex conditions treated at GOSH where psychological well-being may be affected by their condition, and also during times of great stress, for example around the procedures they need and undergo. We support a wide range of children and young people, from those having a surgical procedure or being treated for cancer, to those affected by neurological disorders such as epilepsy. Some of the work we do is also assessing and treating children and young people who are specifically referred to GOSH for treatment of mental health conditions such as eating disorders, autism, tic disorders and children and young people who have had adverse events in their lives leading to trauma. We also have a world leading inpatient unit caring for children who need a hospital admission to support their emotional well-being and mental health.

We are very proud of our mental health and psychological well-being teams and their staff – like our colleagues at GOSH who specialise in physical health, they are experts and leaders in their fields and provide national teaching, perform important new research, and write textbooks for professionals and books for families and carers (including a recent book for parents on helping your child with a physical health condition). Our psychological medicine team was recently awarded child and adolescent mental health service of the year in a national competition by the Royal College of Psychiatrists. A mix of different professional skills combined with large enthusiasm and passion for child health make our teams really essential for the care of children at GOSH and that’s what we continue to strive to deliver.