The producer's view – Sophie Clayton-Payne on 'Troubled Girls'

From the moment you agree to work on a project about child and adolescent mental health, there is an enormous responsibility. You hope the film will raise awareness around mental health but also reduce the stigma around a subject that is too often ignored. At the same time, you want to tell a story that will shine a light on the incredible work of the Child and Adolescent Mental Health clinicians and to give the young people a voice in a way that will empower them.

This film required months and months of research without even picking up a camera. We knew from the start that we wanted to represent community clinical work in this series because it is the frontline of CAMHS. These teams also reflect issues that happen everywhere across the country - every month we see national headlines about the rise in CAMHS referrals, and yet these services have had big funding cuts. To find out more about their work, we spent months with the North and South Camden CAMHS teams. Understandably, some clinicians were cautious but many took us under their wing, allowing us to shadow sessions and introducing us to families. 

We met over 100 families and young people during our research. They were seeking help for a range of problems: coping with family break ups, OCD, anxiety, depression, insomnia, agoraphobia, PTSD, self-harm, body dysphoria, phobias, learning difficulties, ADHD… the list goes on. We met children from 3 years old to 19 years old. The range was vast.  It was a huge privilege to observe these sessions and to speak with these families. We learned so much. Most importantly, perhaps, that mental ill health is irrespective of wealth or creed or race; it can affect anyone.

During this research period at the Tavistock, we were confronted with yet more statistics about the rise in the number of teenagers, particularly girls, who were seeking help in hospital A&Es after self-harming, and who were at risk of suicide. This reflected our experience with the CAMHS teams: almost every clinician had a number of these girls on their caseload. During our research, the Tavistock set up a team called the Camden Adolescent Intensive Support Service (CAISS) which is made up of community mental health nurses, social workers, occupational therapists and a psychiatrist. It was set up in response to the rise in the number of risky, self-harming teenagers in Camden who need more intensive clinical support. The aim is to keep these young people safe and out of hospital. 

As this was such a topical area, we focussed our work on following the CAISS team, which is headed by Antonia Carding, Head of CAMHS Nursing at the Tavistock. She embraced us and the programme from the outset as she understood the importance of talking publicly about mental health and giving the youngsters a much-needed voice. 

We regularly sat in on CAISS team meetings and met with new referrals. Needless to say we met many young people who, along with the Tavistock clinicians, we deemed too vulnerable to film. As you can imagine, it was hard to find a young person who wanted to tell their story, and with whom it was safe to do so. 

Then we met Demi. Her psychiatrist, Dr Alex Sales, introduced us to Demi and we were instantly taken by how articulate, resilient and honest she was. We filmed with Demi over the course of 10 months - documenting some of the highs and lows of this period in her life, and her work with her Tavistock clinicians. Dr Alex Sales was our unflappable guide throughout this process. We were lucky to have a clinician like Alex whose ethos was ‘this is the reality of the work that we do’, and it wasn’t always straightforward.

We were introduced to Maisie and her mother, Sally, through Dr Sarah Helps. Sarah works in a specialist team called Lifespan, which supports young people with autism. The family had come to Sarah in desperation, to get a second diagnosis of Maisie’s mental health condition.  They were willing to travel from Hull to London to get this help. When we met Maisie and Sally for the fist time we sat in their front room in Hull to hear their story. What a story. From the age of 12, Maisie had been admitted to six inpatient units after self-harming or suicide attempts. The family were now at breaking point. Yet we were also struck by the incredible strength they both have, and their unwillingness to give up searching for answers or help. It was their amazing attitude and sense of hope that appealed to us so much and we knew the viewers would feel the same.

We are extremely proud of the episode we’ve made. We hope that it reflects the hard work of the clinicians who support these young people, and also shows the challenges for young people who struggle with self-harm. Ultimately, we hope the girls feel empowered by telling their stories and that the film shines a light on child and adolescent mental health.

Kids on the Edge: Troubled Girls

Self-harm and suicide are major public health problems for teenagers – rates of self-harm are high in the teenage years and suicide is the second...

By Sophie Clayton-Payne – producer of this episode.

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