Press one for uprising, two for having a voice and three to hear us joke about statutory services?
I for one am glad that young people can become autonomous, have agency, and begin to have a voice. It’s why I do my job after all, as often the unbearable truth of being a child is having little power over your life, the choices the grownups make, and of course the voice that is often silenced when it comes to mental health, opinions or indeed speak out about the horrors they face.
Yet we now live in a world where the space to be seen, validated, and witnessed to some of these horrors moves from a two-person relationship in a relationship, family, or therapeutic setting, to one of thousands if not millions on social media platforms. “Hear my story, see my pain and do something about it,” is the underlying request. Whether this be a professional creating a video about their understanding of an approach to a particular issue, and having ‘the cure’ (see my Nike advice blog on Medium for more on this), or the platform for young people to be heard about issues that they deserve to be listened to about.
Yes, I support that young people should have a voice about issues that they face, yes I support those voices should be heard in appropriate, safe and contained spaces to prevent the fallout I am about to describe and yes I support the legislation we are now moving towards regarding online spaces and harm prevention and reduction. One persons pain can be too much to bear for an untrained ear, a child who hears or sees the pain of others and certainly for the empaths of the world.
Recently I wrote a blog about #everyonesinvited website (on my medium page), before it became a thing that journalists pushed. I predicted with friends and colleagues that there would be an investigation into the issues raised, and so they should for the safety of children being sexually abused, and the assaults taking place also. Yet, the investigations did not include the site itself or why it was created and the impact of publishing harrowing accounts (at times) of child sexual abuse and sexual assaults on young people. However, the aspects of my blog which I will echo here (that were missed), are the intentions behind these sites, the content and the unintended consequences of that content on these sites.
Let me elaborate why as a therapist I’m concerned, because the best intentions are often not what results. Listening to trauma, witnessing trauma and being with my clients when they are in my clinic requires that I be trained and have supervision to manage my caseloads, a lot of supervision, to ensure that I am safe, able to hear and help my clients. It is a professional requirement and means my supervisor follows this professional requirement too.
There is no supervision, no line management and no therapy for watching, listening to, and taking on the trauma of someone on a social media platform or website when they tell their story of trauma.
And right now, over the last few months young people have been telling their reported stories of how they have been let down, ignored, dismissed, discharged, laughed at, sent away from, ridiculed, opposed, marched to other services about their suicidal feelings and mental health issues.
The video makers both pretend to be the staff that are carrying out the above, or they speak to their experiences of meeting staff in mental health services. I have been receiving some of these videos from friends and family because they thought they were funny, were curious to know if this really happened in these situations? And, of coursed people alerting me to the new ‘trend’ (see my previous blogs for more info on these trends- ‘the human algorithm’). Young people are speaking out about, attacking and taking the mickey out of CAMHS and it has the potential to harm other young people as an unintended consequence.
Imagine if Amy sees one of these videos on #TikTok, sees that Zoe’s experience was ‘awful’ and did not meet Zoe’s’ needs. Then there is a chance that Amy will not speak to someone or contact someone (like me or other professionals) and not get the help that she needs. Timmy might listen to the story where David talks about his self-harming and he feels that he might not get the help for his issue because David did not, and so doesn’t reach out. And in the background Milly is crying because they are finding the content horrific to listen to because it’s eliciting their trauma. Milly tells me in session that they cannot bear to be on social media because the world is so bad, and yet they need to be there for Thomas, Brooke, and Connor because CAMHS aren’t. They are fed up, don’t know which way to turn, what to say but also do not want to hear it.
Who are these children and young people seeking help from? Can these young people trust a service that is overworked and is not able to meet every need for every person with a mental health issue? What about the stories they hear, and how does this impact them? Who is witnessing our children seeing, hearing, and speaking out about these issues? Where are the adults? Why hasn’t the statutory services response to this crisis in the way Ofsted and the NSPCC have to the sexual abuse and assault websites?
How many children and young people are seeing these videos and what does this do to their trust in the grown ups to be able to help them? Will they even reach out and will we blame their retreat and withdrawal on the iPhone? Yes, there will be services stretched beyond their means and I struggle to have space for clients which means I have to put people on waiting lists, which hurts and I am beyond sad about this. So, what do we do?
Young people have a right to speak out, they deserve adults to listen, and we deserve to be able to help, change the rules, services and way we now need to move with the digital space. So please grownups, hurry up. Our children need us.
Names used in the blog are not real clients in my practice to protect identities and adhere to data protection and privacy laws.