Young people who have experienced their first episode of psychosis are being supported through Headroom, an innovative partnership between Barnardo’s Cymru and Cardiff and Vale University Health Board.
Community support workers are working alongside mental health professionals helping 14 to 25-year-olds rebuild their confidence and access social activities, education and employment while also offering cognitive behaviour therapy.
Here Tom, one of the first teenagers to access the service, shares his personal recovery story.
Tom had just finished the first year of his A-levels and was enjoying a family holiday in Menorca when, having wandered off on his own, he began hallucinating.
He became obsessed with the colours red and blue and couldn’t recognise members of his family. He had no idea what was reality and what wasn’t.
“It was like a nightmare until I realised that I wasn’t well. Somehow I was able to recognise my brother, he took me to my parents and I just burst into tears. My psychosis was completely out of the blue, it was horrific,” said Tom.
Within a few hours he had gone from a fun-loving teenager with a passion for sport to a very scared young man. It would have been frightening for any 17 year old and his family but the fact they were on holiday made it worse and they stayed holed up in their hotel room for three days not knowing quite what to do before flying home.
“It was petrifying,” said Tom. “I just had to rely on the people around me to get me to a safe place. Even on the plane I didn’t know what was going on. When we landed my parents took me straight to hospital where they diagnosed my psychosis and I spent some time in hospital where I was treated well and made friends.”
He was discharged into the care of a community psychiatric nurse and, having turned 18, was transferred into adult services. But he became more aggressive and short tempered following changes to his drug treatment. He was also struggling with his IT course which he wasn’t enjoying and last February he had another episode and was in the care of the crisis team.
He had the support of Headroom, part of the NHS, which provides mental health support for 14 to 25 year olds and works in partnership with Barnardo’s Cymru as part of the Cardiff and Vale University Health Board Trust’s First Episode Psychosis Service.
Weekly cognitive behaviour therapy was provided by Emma Smith, clinical psychologist with Headroom, and although Tom found talking about feelings difficult at first he started recognising the benefits of the coping strategies he was introduced to. Barnardo’s provided a support worker, Amy, to help him rebuild his confidence and get him back into the community.
Emma helped Tom set weekly goals during their sessions and Amy helped him achieve them.
Dad Neil said: “She helped him to get out of the house again, walk the dog, catch a bus, go to a café to improve his social skills and she got him onto courses run by the Prince’s Trust which were really good for his confidence.”
Tom said: “I didn’t want to go at first. When you are in this situation everything is cloudy and you need time to process it. Amy didn’t put any pressure on me but gave me time and eventually I decided I would go on the Prince’s Trust course and really enjoyed it. They gave me the confidence to know I could manage.
“My friends were really good too, really empathetic and good at getting me out of the house. It was difficult when they went off to university and I was left behind because my illness meant I had lost time in college.”
He met new people through cycling, started volunteering as a football coach and even set up his own football team. He swapped his IT course for a BTech in sport and a Welsh Baccalaureate and with the help of a supportive team at his college now hopes to study sports management at university.
“I had new medication and didn’t feel anxious or depressed and I felt able to go back to college,” said Tom, now 20.
“I had struggled with my IT course, it just wasn’t for me, but now I’ve found something I really enjoy.
Headroom has been up and running for just over a year with a team of clinicians and Barnardo’s project workers. Barnardo's workers focus on re-integrating young people into the community by getting them involved with meaningful activities and helping them return to education or employment.
The aim is to work with young people for 12 weeks using a goal focused approach. In addition to this one-to-one support, they also organise social groups to share experiences and develop social skills while introducing new activities useful for everyday life.
Dad Neil said: “Barnardo’s gentle persistence and the range of activities Tom was introduced to made all the difference. It is wonderful to see the difference in him.”