Lancashire schools to receive mental health training from Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Trust nurse amid surge in eating disorders

A Lancashire medic is training teachers across the county to help pupils open up about their mental health struggles, after suffering with his own as a teen and seeing a surge in patients with eating disorders.

Wednesday, 13th October 2021, 12:30 pm
Updated Wednesday, 13th October 2021, 1:30 pm

Sam Tyrer, a gastroenterology nurse, is determined to draw upon his own experiences with mental health struggles to encourage youngsters across the county to speak openly.

As the engagement and prevention lead for Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust (LSCft), Sam began 'Change Talks' four years ago, to go into schools and have conversations with pupils about issues they may be facing.

He uses his own experiences to connect with youngsters, explaining how bullying, depression, anxiety, eating disorders and other illnesses might affect them or people close to them.

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Sam Tyrer (far right) working with young people to remove the stigma surrounding mental health. Pic: LSCft

And his work is more important than ever, as the Trust saw a staggering 74 per cent increase in demand for help with eating disorders over the space of just five months last year.

And according to a survey by Lancashire Mind Children and Young People, over half (59 per cent) of youngsters and teens experience mental health stigma, as a result of peer pressure.

At the age of 17, Sam suffered multiple bereavements, and the loss of people close to him caused him to plunge into a four-year long depression with no idea how to reach out for help.

Sam said: "I suffered a lot of loss at the age of 17, and it was a very difficult time for me. I gained a lot of weight, but I was a rugby player and I didn't want to talk about my emotions or what was going on in my head at the time.

Sam Tyrer, engagement and prevention lead for Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust (LSCft).

"I just didn't talk about it. I think everyone is going to experience something in their lives that impacts them, whether it's the loss of grandparents, a relationship breakup, anything.

"I was isolating myself, eating all the wrong foods, but then one day I told myself, 'you need to make some big changes.'

"I can remember the exact day. I was on my bike but I was seven stone heavier - so I had to get off and walk up hills. That really irritated me.

"It was at that point I realised that I had to do something. From then on I drastically turned my life around. I started exercising again, building up that momentum of healthier habits really helped me.

"I became consistent with it, which then mirrored into my academic life and allowed me to go on to achieve a Masters and overcome that difficult patch."

As an extension of the successful Change Talks programme, Sam has secured £15,000 from Health Education England to launch a pilot 'train the trainer' scheme, which will equip teachers with the knowledge needed to also speak to pupils about mental health issues.

Sam continued: "When I look back now I think if I'd have spoken to someone about how I was feeling when I went through those events, I wouldn't have struggled as much.

"I think if I'd have told someone this upset me, I've experienced this loss, and actually talked to someone - I really don't think I'd have struggled as badly with depression or anything like that.

"With Change Talks, I wanted to go into schools and have open conversations about the issues facing young people, from anxiety and depression, to eating disorders and bullying.

"I'm open with them about having my own mental health struggles in the past - I find this helps to destigmatise the issue and encourages young people to feel safe about sharing their own concerns."

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The pilot will be launched in Preston in the coming weeks, at Lostock Hall Academy, Our Lady's Catholic High School in Fulwood and Walton-le-Dale High School, with plans to extend the scheme into Fylde coast schools from the New Year.

Staff will be trained to deliver mental health sessions through PSHE lessons, and will be given access to resources to help pupils with any issues they are facing.

It comes after the Government implemented a "whole school" approach to promoting mental health and wellbeing, with incentives to encourage all education settings to train at least one member of staff to become a mental health lead.

Sam said one of the most notable increases in demand for help as a result of the pandemic had been people needing help with eating disorders.

LSCft saw a staggering 74 per cent increase in demand from November 2019 to March 2020 - just five months.

National investment has helped the Trust to increase capacity to help the service meet this demand, and Sam explained how eating disorders would be a big area of focus for his work.

“Eating disorders have soared over the last 18 months," he said.

"There are many reasons for this, from people trying to regain some control in a time of uncertainty, to the removal of access to coping mechanisms such as regular exercise and social contact.

"Social media is also a massive factor for young people. They have lots of celebrities to compare themselves to, and some of the people I've worked with have informed me of videos on TikTok giving dangerous diet 'advice', including how to limit calories.

"Every week during the lock down, I broadcast an informal conversation with a team of experts – we called it Mental Health Family Hour. To mark World Mental Health Day, we invited a panel of experts and those with lived experience of eating disorders, to come together to share their knowledge."

Caroline Donovan, Chief Executive at LSCft added: “The pressures of the last 18 months have taken their toll on many young people. We have seen a huge increase in demand for our services, with a 15 per cent increase in community demand across all our services, with particular focus on eating disorders.

“We really believe that innovative early intervention programs such as Sam’s Change Talks, and the government’s whole school approach will significantly help children.

“The earlier that we help children experiencing mental health issues, the more likely they are to recover well, and quickly. Normalising these conversations is crucial, and I do think times are changing here, maybe the pandemic has helped us to talk.”

The Trust said it would be delivering more early intervention work with partners across Healthier Lancashire and South Cumbria, with the introduction to schools of specialist Mental Health Support Teams.

Caroline continued: “The presence of Mental Health Support Teams (MHST) in schools will provide an opportunity to create a school environment that encourages young people to be more open to talking about their mental health, will tackle the stigma of mental health issues, and provide a positive presence within the school to both support and inform wellbeing for young people.

“In the Lancashire and South Cumbria healthcare system, we are delighted to be awarded the required investment to support the further development of MHSTs locally.”

Each school will be allocated Education Mental Health Practitioners, who will visit their allocated schools weekly.

In addition to scheduled interventions, the practitioners' aims will be to walk the floors in schools, and to become a known, trusted and recognised face that encourages talking about mental health.

They will also be accessible to school colleagues for advice, support and supervision when emotional health and wellbeing in a young person is of concern.

Young people under the age of 18 are also able to self-refer, or be referred by their families, through LSCft's Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) .

Sean Bullen, director of education at Fylde Coast Academy Trust (FCAT), said he welcomed the news that the 'train the trainer' scheme would be rolled out to Fylde coast schools in the New Year, and highlighted how Blackpool academies were already working together to maintain the health and wellbeing of pupils.

'Mr Bullen said: "At FCAT we recognise that mental health support has been required in greater depth following Covid.

"We always welcome partnership working with the NHS. As we all know the NHS has been a rainbow of hope for the nation during the pandemic.

"Our staff already have an increased understanding of the needs of some of our children and young people. In recent years there has been a deeper understanding of trauma-based approaches, for those pupils where this is the case.

"I would say that some of our schools already benefit from mental health trained professionals, and much of this work has already been done in partnership with both the NHS and the local authority.

"We would all like there to be more capacity with CAMHS, a service that can provide great support for young people. However, many of our schools employ additional counsellors or life coaches.

"All of our schools also provide a stable environment, and we would hope that every single one of our children has a trusted adult they can talk to. Indeed all our schools have looked at the recovery funding in place from the government and seen where we can offer more pastoral support , as well as academic help.

"We strive to be 'the best we can be', so we recognise there is always more we can do to support the mental health and well being of our children, and I know this is an area of our work where all our headteachers place significant emphasis."