Friend website aims to improve mental health in young

A depressed teenager, posed by model

Fatima has spent 12 weeks away from friends and family trying to control the demons in her head.

"The voices started by saying 'I'm your best friend' then they started getting abusive and it got worse and worse..."

Her voice tails off as the memory of that dark period of her life returns.

Fatima is just 16 years old.

She was sitting her GCSE exams when the stress became too much and she started hearing voices. The pressure to achieve, anxiety over her self-image and family issues all combined to send her spiralling into a fragile and disturbed state.

She struggled with psychosis all summer before ending up desperate in A&E.

Her social worker recommended that she visit a residential centre specialising in the treatment of children and young people with serious mental health problems.

At Becton Lodge in Sheffield, she was given medication to calm her down and forced to accept she had a problem.

"The hardest thing was realising I had an illness. That was a big step.

"I've got a lot of help here. I'm trying to understand myself and how to control the voice.

"I realise now that the voice cannot hurt me and I know I can get over it."

Far from friends

But Fatima is not alone in her experience.

Image caption Advice is featured on the EPIC Friends website for anxious and depressed young people.

Mental health charity Youngminds says that one in 10 children aged between five and 16 suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder - about three children in every class.

In Sheffield, recent research suggests that 12% of secondary pupils in the city say they feel very sad or depressed most days.

What Fatima says she missed most in the difficult days of her psychosis was help from friends.

"I lost my friends. I lost contact with them all. They didn't really understand what I was going through and I couldn't talk to them either," she admits.

A new website, called Epic Friends, aims to change all that.

Funded by the Children's Hospital Charity in Sheffield, it wants to provide clear information for young people about what to do if they suspect their friends are feeling anxious, depressed or troubled in some way.

An "epic" friend is a friend who notices a problem and is prepared to listen, the website says.

Gill Crow, consultant clinical psychologist from Sheffield Children's NHS Foundation Trust, had the idea for the website and developed the content.

She says friends are very important in a young person's world.

"Young people often turn to their friends. Friends are the ones who notice if they are not eating or becoming reclusive and not going out. They talk more to their peer group than their parents at that age, although parents can underestimate how important they can be.

"Adolescence is a very difficult time of life. A lot of them will be feeling anxious about something. The danger is that they get into a negative spiral, becoming more and more anxious."

Early intervention

The website promotes the idea that recognising you have a problem and talking it over with a friend or an expert is half the battle.

Image caption An illustration from the Epic Friends website details how young people can get a mental boost.

And being a good friend is someone who can play the role of adviser and listener.

The website urges young people to find out what kind of friend they are by taking the Epic friendship quiz and it advises them how to cope with the ups and downs of life by, among other things, "running around, getting creative, giving someone a hug, finding time for yourself and letting people know you're not coping".

Lucie Russell, director of campaigns and policy at Youngminds, echoes the sentiments of the website.

"Without support, young people are often forced to attempt to cope with issues like self harm, eating disorders and depression alone while navigating the most turbulent years of their lives.

"More support needs to be given to services that intervene early and give emotional help and support before mental health issues become entrenched.

"Too many child and adolescent mental health services have been reduced to simply helping young people who are very ill. If they were able to intervene earlier this would avoid young people's problems becoming more severe and disabling as they get older."

More on this story

Around the BBC

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites