Alnwood, a specialist unit in the North East

Have you ever thought what it’s like to be a young person admitted to mental health services?

Fiona Kettle, from the Trust’s Communications team was invited to find out.  Fiona visited Alnwood Unit, a medium secure unit for young people up to 18 years with complex mental health needs, including those with a learning disability.

On a walk around the unit, it was great to see the amazing facilities that are offered to young people.  They have access to a multipurpose gym, fully equipped music room, recreation room, horticulture area and outside courtyard where in the summer they hold BBQs and enjoy visiting bands.

Everyone has their own bedroom and shower room which can be decorated with posters allowing for a more homely environment.

The young people have influenced the way that the unit is decorated; changing the aesthetics of some of the areas through decorative art work and home entertainment systems, making for a friendlier environment for young people.

Communication is very important and young people are able to access supervised skype sessions with their families which has proved to be very beneficial in their recovery.

I usually get up about 10ish, I’m supposed to be up ready for education by 9am but I struggle sometimes.  I get myself a shower, get dressed and then wander round to the dining room for my breakfast. Education is really interesting, it’s one of the best bits about being on this unit; I have really enjoyed doing my GCSE art.  We do maths, English, science, ICT, as well as design and technology lessons. All the staff support me; they help me when I’m upset.  They are always there to listen to you, they care about you. I wouldn’t be where I am now without them

A young person on the ward describes their usual day

The young people have structured days between 9am and 3.20pm which are tailored to meet their needs, this includes their treatment programme.  Each young person has a timetable to encourage them to attend their lessons, like all teenagers they work towards their GCSE’s.  They are fully involved in co-producing their own goals for therapy, education, activities and nursing care.

Evening and weekends are times to relax and take part in activities such as table tennis, karaoke, PlayStation games, video nights and on special occasions such as birthdays, they can enjoy a takeaway.

Therapy animals are often used with young people having the opportunity to care for a variety of animals, birds and reptiles.  Pets as Therapy dogs have also been regular visitors to Alnwood; the young people have developed relationships with visiting pups and dogs throughout their stay.  More recently some of the young people have taken on volunteering roles at a local farm, developing their knowledge of farm work and animal livestock in a busy environment.

Each young person has a say in the staff who support them, by creating their own interview panel which works alongside the staff panel. They ask interviewees the questions they feel would be important for choosing staff that they believe have the right skills and attitudes in order to support them. Their score is added to the staff score and comments are reviewed to ensure they feel valued. This has shown their contribution to staff retention, as relationships are formed positively from the beginning. This development is an empowering experience for both young people and the interviewees.

The service has been reviewed by Investors in Children, the Care Quality Commission and Quality Network for Inpatient CAMHS, all of which have commended them for their high standards of involvement and participation.

Staff report that they find their work rewarding, to see a very unwell young person admitted to the unit and work with them planning and co-ordinating their care, helping them on their journey to discharge is something that they are all proud off.  They are all like jigsaw pieces that fit together to form a great unit.