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Unmasking mental health issues

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Specialist services to uncover and treat mental health issues in deaf children and adolescents are being made available across the country.

NHS North Yorkshire and York Community Mental Health Services already provides tailored care for deaf and hearing impaired young people with a range of emotional and behavioural problems. But earlier this year, they were awarded national funding to set up the service nationwide, expanding the original three centres to ten. The team assesses each child’s emotional and developmental needs and then provides appropriate care. This ranges from therapeutic support for the individual, to help for their family and advice for teachers, care staff and other professionals working with deaf children.

Squarely in the middle of this service is Ged Davies, Lead Community Mental Health Nurse for NHS North Yorkshire and York Community. He’s part of a multi-disciplinary team where nurses work with family support workers, speech and language therapists, psychologists, occupational therapists and social work practitioners.

And it’s this set up that is helping to make breakthroughs for patients that haven’t managed elsewhere.

The challenge

Research suggests that between 40 and 50 percent of deaf children in England experience mental health problems. However, says Ged, these children can be difficult to spot: ‘One of the challenges in this area is that deafness can mask mental health problems.

It can be hard to tell if someone has communication problems because of their hearing or if there is an underlying condition behind it.

‘A lot of the people referred to us have been moved from service to service - and that meant that no one could get a clear view of the big picture. In this team, we can treat as well as assess, breaking the chain of patients being passed along. Everyone on the team has worked with deaf patients, but also has wider experience, and it’s the combination of the two that informs our practice.’

The resolution

When Ged first joined the team, he realised that they needed to set up consultations with people who had been referred to them. He took it upon himself to organise them and now screens all consultations the team carries out.

‘Not all the referrals we get meet the criteria for our services,’ Ged says. ‘But rather than just bouncing it back, it’s more effective to sit down with the patient and their family and get the facts from them.

‘It’s a double benefit. It allows us to build up a rapport with the individual in terms they are comfortable with, and we may be able to suggest more appropriate services.’

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