A year after Birmingham Children’s Hospital Charity announced its ambition to fund a number of peer support workers, to work with children and young people in Birmingham experiencing mental health illness, the first peer support worker is now in post. 

The Fight For All The Feels youth mental health fundraising campaign launched last year, on World Mental Health Day 2020, in response to an uptick of referrals to Forward Thinking Birmingham, the city’s innovative youth mental health partnership for 0 to 25-year-olds, which is part of Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust. As well as fund these new roles, the aim of the campaign is to raise awareness of the youth mental health challenge in Birmingham and, with it, help tackle the stigma which still surrounds it.  

Each peer support worker will have lived experience of mental health illness, therefore not only aiding with a young person’s medical recovery, but their personal recovery too.

Miski Hussein, 24, from Birmingham, is the first peer support worker to be appointed. She was at university when she started to experience problems with her mental health. While her peers were out socialising and enjoying the typical university experience, it wasn’t a scene she wanted to be a part of, largely due to her religious upbringing. It meant she struggled to build true friendships and the important support network around her.

“I just didn’t fit in,” Miski said. “I felt depressed about the whole situation. Add the stress of entering my third and final year at university, and it’s no surprise it all came to a head.”

Miski started to demonstrate manic traits. She had increased energy and ploughed that into her university work, but became obsessed about it. Her family had noticed the change in her, as she was completely different to the outgoing and happy girl they knew. Instead she was paranoid and suspicious of them. She would have episodes of crying for hours or then talking non-stop. Her mum took her to hospital where they were told she was experiencing psychosis. Miski was sectioned for two months.

It was the first of her two episodes of psychosis. Despite getting better and going on to complete her university degree, Miski struggled to accept what had happened: “I just felt complete and utter shame – the fact I had experienced psychosis. Mental health isn’t something that’s openly talked about in my culture and I was concerned about the stigma, so I kept quiet.”

It was her second stay in hospital that made the difference. Her cognitive behavioural therapy helped her to think differently and reduce the shame she felt. Now she wants want to talk about her experience, so she can help others, and the peer support worker role provided the perfect opportunity. Miski will be working with young people who have experienced psychosis, just like she did.

She says: “The concept of helping people recover through shared and lived experiences really spoke to me. I know people from a similar background to mine will be struggling to accept and be open about their illness. So if they can talk to me, someone who understands what they’re going through – the fear and shame they’re experiencing – then that interaction could make all the difference. Just because society tells us mental health is a taboo, doesn’t mean that’s the case. It’s important for me to speak up and be the change needed.”

The peer support worker roles are completely charitably funded and deliver an innovative new model of care, making it the first of its kind in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAHMS). They will be available at every stage of a young person’s mental health journey – whether that is an initial conversation about the struggles they are facing, through the care provided by Forward Thinking Birmingham, or as part of their discharge package.

By introducing the peer support workers, Forward Thinking Birmingham hopes to see a reduction in the number of referrals to its service and the number of children and young people requiring in-patient treatment. It should also help to speed up discharges and lessen the likelihood of re-referrals within six months of discharge. Miski is the first of a number of peer support workers being funded by Birmingham Children’s Hospital Charity’s fundraising campaign.

To help the charity tackle youth mental health and fund other peer support worker roles, please visit the Fight For All The Feels website, where you can learn more about the campaign, register your fundraising, or make a donation. 

Read Miski’s full story here.