Dr Andy Rogers is the Head of Psychological therapies at the McGuinness unit, he discusses the benefit of the unit for his young patients.

What does the McGuinness unit offer?

The McGuinness unit is a specialist Adolescent Inpatient ward for young people aged 13 to 18 who require assessment and treatment for a range of complex mental health difficulties including severe mental illness. The service provides day-to-day therapeutic care, as well as education, in a safe and nurturing environment.

For many young people who experience mental health difficulties, the support of those that they know and trust is extremely important in their recovery. Most young people, who experience mental health difficulties will be referred by their GP to specialist Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). CAMHS, aided by family and school will support the recovery of the young person at home and in the community.

However, for some young people, their distress is so severe and the difficulties they encounter are so complex that they become extremely vulnerable in the community.

At times a young person may feel very unsafe and be at risk of harming themselves or others. Some young people in these circumstances may have received a diagnosis, which is a way of helping them and others to understand their experiences and can give a guide as to what treatment may help their recovery. Young people who come to the McGuinness Unit may have one or more diagnoses such as: anxiety, depression, psychosis, bi-polar disorder, eating disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder. The Young People may also present with distress that leads them to harm themselves (self-harm) or display other concerning behaviours such as aggression, excessive washing or repeated checking.

Many young people do not have a diagnosis at the time of their admission, but often their distress and behaviour is very concerning for them and other people. These young people need to spend some time at the McGuinness Unit so that their difficulties and needs can be assessed and a plan of support and treatment developed.

The McGuinness Unit is an ‘open’ unit, in that the majority of the young people recognise they need support and come to us voluntarily. For a small number of young people who are particularly distressed and are struggling to accept that they require help, there may be a need for them to be kept in hospital against their wishes and prevented from leaving. . This means a young person is detained under a legal order under the Mental Health Act, a ‘Section’. This allows for a young person remain in hospital for a sufficient period of time, to either assess or treat their mental health difficulty. Detention under the Mental Health Act is undertaken with the consent of the young person’s parents or nearest relative.

Who works at the unit?

Our Clinical Team is made up of people from a variety of professional backgrounds including Psychiatrists, Clinical Psychologists, Nurses, Occupational Therapists, Social workers, Arts and Psychological Therapists, Teachers and Dieticians. We also include our Domestic staff, administration staff and management as part of the team!

In order to support young people in their recovery, we provide a range of interventions for them and their families including: building positive relationships with staff and other young people, engaging them in fun activities, education and sport, supporting them in daily living skills such as cooking, budgeting and shopping, and more formal psychological therapies such as cognitive-behavioural therapy, family therapy and art and music therapy. These may be delivered individually or in a group. While medication is used to treat some illness in young people, it is often not the first line of treatment, and when used, is always supplemented by these other interventions. We also have an onsite education provision ‘Cloughside College’ that provides formal education tailored to the needs of the young people in our care.

Some of the guiding principles of the McGuinness unit highlight that the young people we work with are not ‘mini-adults’, are still learning and developing and are able to achieve recovery. As such, the young people we work with are treated as typical adolescents, who happen to experience mental health difficulties, often as a result of their coping resources not being fully developed or having become overwhelmed. We also believe that Young People should spend as short a time as necessary in hospital. This means that right from the start of their time with us, they are supported in a developmentally appropriate way to return to challenges and rewards of their daily lives as quickly as possible. This involves helping young people to build their coping skills, confidence and resilience, improve relationships with those in their lives that can support them and build a lasting plan for the future. If we can help to achieve this, we hope to significantly reduce future distress, increase the chance of the young people being able to manage the ups and downs life more effectively and ultimately have a positive and productive future.

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