Leeds self-harm and crisis support service for teenagers uses insight of survivors to create 'safe space'
A support service for Leeds teenagers in crisis has seen demand rising significantly over the past year, with more than one in six contacts recorded referencing self-harm.
Leeds Survivor Led Crisis Service (LSLCS) founded its Connect helpline for adults back in 2001 to provide an alternative to medical mental health support, particularly for those who might be falling through the cracks.
And in 2018, it became clear that there was a real need for something similar for younger people in the city.
Theresa Grant, who manages the Connect helpline and the Teen Connect off-shoot, said: “The clinical commissioning group was seeing quite a big volume of young people, particularly young girls, presenting at A&E and self-harming.
“Obviously A&E is not the place, but parents get desperate when their children are harming themselves, in crisis or suicidal. There was a need for more of a place for them to go when they were in crisis.”
LSLCS teamed up with young people’s counselling service The Market Place to pilot a confidential helpline and online chat service tailored to 13 to 18-year-olds. It proved a success, with the expanded service now open to 11 and 12-year-olds and offering a text messaging option as well.
“That’s a really good way for young people to build their trust with us,” Miss Grant said. “Eventually when they’ve built up the trust with a few workers, then they’ve moved onto being able to talk to use on the phone."
Teen Connect recorded 500 contacts, including 90 new callers, in the 13 months to March 2020. In the year since, 866 contacts have been recorded including 153 new callers.
Miss Grant said: “Out of those 866 contacts, 148 referenced self-harming – and that will only be those who feel comfortable to talk about it.
“What you tend to see is we will get young people who maybe for some reason they don’t feel able to talk to their parents or carers. It can be for many reasons - it might be that they feel too embarrassed about it, or ashamed, or they don’t want to put it on their parents.”
The service helps young people to explore their feelings and can make referrals to other services if asked to do so.
“We’re a non-directive service," Miss Grant said. "As much as possible, it will be exploring what it means to them. It’s working through that - what are they doing, what does that mean for that young person? We will try to help them unpick those emotions. It’s all against the backdrop of holding them in a safe space.”
Crucially, those involved in LSLCS have had experience of being in crisis themselves.
Speaking to the Yorkshire Evening Post to mark Self-Harm Awareness Day, Miss Grant said: “I’ve self-harmed myself and from quite a young age. It’s not something I do now but it is something I’ve experienced myself. Quite a lot of people who work for our organisation have done.
"They've got a lot of insight. We get it and we're here to listen and to support through it. We talk about ourselves as surviving emotional distress.
“Young people can often feel adults don’t understand, they don’t know what it’s like, they’re reading from a text book. Actually, we do understand, we do get it.”
Those who prefer face-to-face support can make use of Safe Zone, a mental health crisis support service for young people aged 11-17 in Leeds and their parents or carers.
Staffed by experienced youth workers from LSLCS and The Market Place, it offers emotional and practical support, including signposting to other support services in the city where requested.
‘My anxiety was getting really bad... I wasn’t in a great place’
Leeds schoolgirl ‘El’ first learned about Teen Connect when she came across their stall at an event in the city.
“My anxiety was getting really bad at the time and I just wasn’t in a great place really,” she said. “I was super stressed, super anxious with school.”
Then 13, she first made contact with the service via text messages rather than ringing the helpline itself. She said: “It was really helpful being able to be anonymous but still get the support you need.”
Now 14, El has also started to make use of the face-to-face sessions that are available through the Safe Zone scheme.
“I think the face-to-face has been very helpful to me,” she said. “I use it frequently still. You kind of connect more with people and you build that trust. They’re all really lovely and really trustworthy.
“They don’t just leave you with your thoughts. They’ll work with you. They’ve built with me a safety, I’ve got my own support network. They will make sure that you’re safe, even when you’re not speaking to them at the time.
“It’s given me a sense of security. When everything is so up in the air, having that continuity of support it really does make a difference.”
Having benefited from accessing the organisation’s various services for teenagers, El urged others who felt like they might need some help to make contact with the team.
She said: “You will be believed. You can trust the people there. Everything is confidential, there’s support and you’re not alone, even though at the moment with the pandemic you might feel that you are. It’s totally valid and it’s totally acceptable not to be okay.”
How to access support
Teen Connect is open weekdays, 3.30pm-2am, and weekends, 6pm-2am. Call 0808 800 1212, text 07715 661559 or use the online chat facility.
Safe Zone offers appointments lasting around 45 minutes on three nights each week, using Dial House in Halton and The Market Place’s base in the city centre. To request a referral, call 0113 819 8189 or 07593 529367 on Monday, Thursday or Sunday, 5pm-8.30pm.
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