Jan is 17 and experiencing psychosis. She’s really ill and needing a lot of support from CAMHS. They are supporting her as much as they can but the way Jan’s feeling she doesn’t think its enough. So she texts her therapist and key worker. A lot – 73 times in the last week in fact.
CAMHS have asked Jan and her parents for her to stop texting them. But Jan can’t manage it. It’s a sign of her increasing desperation and inability to cope. Her parents have tried taking her phone off her but that makes Jan even more distraught. For her being able to reach out through her phone is one of her securities and coping mechanisms.
Eventually Jan is assessed for admission to a young people’s psychiatric unit. When she arrives she is told that she will only have supervised access to her phone for an hour each afternoon. She finds this incredibly distressing. Limited calls and texting, and NO INTERNET. She feels disconnected from the world, like a prisoner being locked away for doing something wrong. She fears losing all her friends when they think she’s ignoring them. How will she be able to get support from anyone who isn’t a nurse?
My Take on Mobiles and Mental Health
Jan’s experience isn’t uncommon. Here’s my take on it.
Over the last three years I’ve spent time in hospital wards and receiving care in the community. I know what it is like to have no connection to the outside world with restricted internet and hardly any phone time. Often in hospital you’re only allowed your phone for a couple of hours each day. Sometimes this will be supervised. Sometimes you won’t be allowed your phone at all.
While clinicians will give medical explanations for restricting young people’s mobile access I can only speak for myself and those I have spoken to: they have all said it would have been helpful to have connection to the internet to keep relationships with peers and family as well as finding out about different therapies or the medications they were being given whilst in hospital. It’s always about keeping relationships and being informed.
The Professional Take
But what about the other side of the argument from professionals? Could it be harmful to allow access to friends that possibly are detrimental to recovery? Can it cause friction or attract bullying from other inpatients who don’t fully understand or who don’t have as much access to their phone?
I agree that some peer and friend relationships are harmful. However just stopping young inpatients from speaking to them won’t solve the situation. They need help to talk through those relationships and see them for what they are.
I also think being able to get info about therapy and medication, in your own time and space can really help you to understand what it is for and how it works. I never knew what psychotherapy was all about until I searched online. When I was 17 I was given medication without an explanation of how it worked, when it was best to take it and how it would affect me initially. I had to find all this out by myself. This can be quite a daunting for young people because there is so information out there that its difficult to know what to trust.
For me this is why the Labs projects are so important. They will help people like me to access youth friendly information through apps and tools that work in user-centered ways. They will help us manage our doctor appointments, be informed about our treatment, make the most out of our therapy.