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Mental Health Nurse to Documentary Advisor

Will Murcott talks to us about his journey in clinical service and academia.

Will Murcott

Will Murcott is a PhD student at WMS who is about to publish his thesis, ‘Understanding the experiences of people aged 16 to 25 years old admitted to mental health wards’. He is an experienced mental health nurse and a senior lecturer at the Open University. He has recently been a mental health advisor on the BBC documentary Joe Wicks: Facing my childhood, which looked at how the mental health struggles of parents can affect children and young people.

Can you tell me a bit more about your PhD?

I wanted to explore young people’s experiences in mental health inpatient settings and the difficulties in the transition between children’s and adult mental health services when they reach 18. It is a qualitative piece of research where I was able to talk directly in person to young people before Covid. Traditionally children are looked after by CAMHS (Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services) in an inpatient setting until the age of 18 before transitioning over the AMHS (Adult Mental Health Services) if they require further support. CAMHS is often seen as a developmentally/family attuned service whereas AMHS can be perceived as more reactionary and often only dealing with mental health crisis and severe illness. CAMHS still has its challenges, it is underfunded and there aren’t very many inpatient beds available for young people. Some beds are run by the NHS and many others are run by private organisations and there are often concerns about failing in these settings.

What were the findings of your research?

One of the findings of my research was that young people value meaningful relationships with both with peers and members of staff but sometimes relationships with peers particularly are discouraged by staff who have concerns of them picking up undesirable behaviour. It is inevitable that young people will want to connect with those who are around them and particularly with those who are sharing similar experiences with them. They also desire connections with staff as those who are caring with them. This can happen if staff are able to show a degree of vulnerability and openness which is difficult as professionalism can inevitably become a bit of a barrier. These findings were a little surprising as the work was supposed to be looking at the problems with the challenges with the service rather than with personal relationships.

Young people inevitably talked about their fear of going to adult services after they had finished within CAMHS. They reported not feeling quite like adults which aligns with research showing that adulthood is emerging later in development to coincide with getting jobs and living independently which often doesn’t come until into their 20s.

There are barriers to transition in that services are separate and work so differently. They are under resourced and there is often time pressures to move patients from one service to another. There is a need for more cohesion, unity and co working. If services are more joined up and synergistic then they would be more successful in alleviating anxieties and aided a smoother transition. There needs to be more research into this area as it is currently quite limited.

In considering whether there should be a service for just 16–25-year-olds young people revealed to me that they enjoyed having older adults around them which is perhaps counter to previous work which talks about their fear of adults in terms of potential violence, assaults and becoming chronic patients themselves. An element of this still came through but it was interesting to see that they felt that there was real value in positive relationships at any age as it helped them to understand the potential issues they may face and again helped with shared experiences.

What will you do when this work is published?

Once this is published, I would like to get a few papers out detailing the findings and take them to conferences. I also want to try and make sure that these young people’s voices are heard. They often feel dehumanised and lacking in power and autonomy, yet they have felt able to open up to me and share their experiences. I feel a responsibility to share them with others and try to help make changes that benefit other young people in the future. Young people want to co-author their care and work with others to design services. This often doesn’t happen and if it does lip service is often paid to it because of the chronic lack of funding and work loads of staff. If I can raise awareness of these issues and perhaps encourage other research or investigation perhaps things will change.

How did you get involved with the Joe Wicks documentary?

I am also a senior lecturer at the Open University (OU) and the OU often works with production companies on science-based documentaries. I was delighted to get the call to be involved. It was perfect for me as I have a huge interest in young people’s mental health and how services are structured. I worked with Louis Theroux’s production company to assist shape the material they had into a meaningful story that not only put across Joe’s experiences but also the wider context of the impact of mental health on children and families.

As a mental health nurse, I was well placed to advise on the footage they had shot, and I was enormously proud to have been involved. Joe is such an engaging person. I didn’t know very much about him before lockdown. I was just aware that he was a personal trainer and had written some cookbooks but then started to do his PE with my daughter during the pandemic. I had no idea that 18 months later I would be working on a documentary about him. Public support for the programme has been incredible and that is largely down to the infectiousness of Joe. It has helped raise awareness of the impact of mental health issues of parents on children. I have tried to use this time to really promote the role of mental health nurses in the profession on social media to raise the profile of this as a valid and fulfilling career path that really helps others.

The documentary talks about the impact of mental health on whole families. However, the system you have described as part of your research doesn’t look to cater for this in any sort of holistic sense. Is that so?

It is frustrating that services are not joined up. As a mental health nurse when I was treating children you often speak to the parents who share their own mental health struggles. There should be an integrated approach to treating the whole family rather than individuals being directed to separate services. When parents spoke to me, I knew that they would struggle to be seen by AMHS as their cases aren’t severe enough. I would direct them there and, in the meantime, I would often talk to them as well as their children. I had to be creative with the time I had to meet the families’ needs as their situations are all intertwined.

Joe Wicks talks about the immense guilt he feels at not being able to answer all the messages that he gets from people. As a mental health nurse is this something that also affects you?

Yes, all the time. As a lecturer and doing this PhD I don’t spend as much time in a clinical setting, and I feel guilty about the people I have had to step away from and those that I am not working with. You have to try and reconcile yourself that you are trying to help in other ways such as undertaking research that you hope will make changes and in education teaching the next generation of nurses however, it doesn’t entirely appease the guilt of not being on the front line where the need is greatest.

What would you like to do in the future?

I would certainly like to be involved in further opportunities like this if they ever presented themselves, but I am also very busy as a teacher, an academic and working clinically.

Since this interview Will has successfully completed his PhD and is currently working with the BBC on a mental health programme.