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Seeing the GP: Advice and tips for young people

Young people’s views on improving access to GP services and other support

People gave us their ideas on what could help improve healthcare for young people, including:

•    clinics for young people
•    mental health clinics for young people
•    clinics for all age groups
•    telephone helplines
•    online health services and live chat
•    support from other young people

Clinics for young people

Simon felt that specific clinic times for young people would be helpful. They would also give them the opportunity to meet other people dealing with similar issues and ‘share how they do things differently’. He felt that young people in a GP surgery for all age groups rarely talk to one another but in a clinic for young people ‘they’re more inclined to talk’.
 

Clinics for young people would be a great way to share experiences and meet people going through similar problems.

Clinics for young people would be a great way to share experiences and meet people going through similar problems.

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How would you feel if the surgeries had like slots in the evenings, six ‘till eight or whatever, once a week or something, just as a young people’s clinic?

I think that would be useful for young people because it would be nice for them to meet other people perhaps who are suffering from other similar conditions. And that’s a great way for them to get together to share experiences, share how they do things differently. And it may just help them because sometimes if a young person goes to a GP surgery and they’re the only young person there, you know, they’ll sit in a corner and not talk to anybody. Whereas if it’s somebody of a similar age, they’re more inclined to talk and it could be beneficial to them really.

And in terms of young people, what were, what would you say were the main reasons they might go to the GP? Do you have any thoughts about what sort of things are most likely to affect young people?

I mean it’s sort of difficult because when you’ve got young people with long term conditions, the reason why they go to the GP are likely to be completely different perhaps to what other young people might go to the GP with. So I’ve known people who’ve gone to the GP because they’ve had a few aches and pains. Whereas, for me, I wouldn’t go to the GP with that because I’m used to it. So there’s, you can definitely see the difference between young people who are healthy and those who have got long term conditions as well. I think there’s some cross, crossing things perhaps, like young people might go to the GP, you know, development reasons, and sexual health perhaps. 
Ambeya also liked the idea of these clinics because everyone would be equal and not ‘put on a scale of who’s more important, who’s less important....everyone at that clinic would be equally seen or equally judged’. She thought that having these clinics after school would mean that young people wouldn’t have to miss lessons. She also liked the idea of young people being given work opportunities to help out at GP surgeries, and volunteer drop-in sessions for advice on mental health.
 

Clinics for 13-19 year olds would be helpful. At the age of 20, Ambeya feels that she’s ‘learnt the skills to cope’ by herself now.

Clinics for 13-19 year olds would be helpful. At the age of 20, Ambeya feels that she’s ‘learnt the skills to cope’ by herself now.

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I think it would definitely be good because then you won't be…you won't be like put on a scale of who's more important, who's less important, because then everyone at that clinic would be equally seen or equally judged. So I think it would be a good thing, and it will be better to be after school and stuff like that, so yeah I think it would be cool.

Yeah, you mentioned that after school would be better?

Well it depends because obviously some people…if it's a really bad illness then they should be obviously…they should obviously miss school to go and see the GP. But there are like…there are like…like I know some of my friends who'd like to be seen after school because they don’t really want to miss school, knowing that was for an appointment that they had to wait like half an hour for. So sometimes after school, it doesn’t even need to be for the whole, probably like three to five or something, just to know that you can go somewhere and just come back out straight away.

Mm and what age group do you think would be most appropriate?

It depends what you mean by young people.

What would you think young people – what does it mean to you as a young person? Maybe from age twelve, maybe fourteen, maybe up to twenty, maybe twenty five?

I think it should be…I think young people should be classed from thirteen to nineteen, should be the teen years.

Hm mm. Is that the kind of area…that kind of age group that you think needs the most….?

Yeah, because obviously up to twelve you're classed as a child. And then thirteen to eighteen you're classed as a teen. Eighteen onwards you're an adult, but I think it should be increased to nineteen at least.

Yeah. That kind of transition period of between being a child and….?

Yeah, yeah, or it could even be split up by like age…not even age groups, like GCSE, A-level, Uni or something.

Now that you're twenty years old…

Yeah

…do you feel like you would benefit from something like this, a young person's clinic, or do you think you are able to…?

Yeah, I think I've got so used to doing it by myself. I'd rather just stick to doing it because I know what to do now. I wouldn’t want to try something new now that I've already learnt the skills to cope myself. Well I say that now, but obviously there are times when I would need access to stuff like this, which would be good, but I think because I've learned over the years to do things myself, I'd rather just stick to that.
Auberon felt that drop-in clinics at specific times during the week for all health problems, physical and mental, would mean that young people wouldn’t need to make an appointment and could go there on their own, without their parents. Aphra liked the idea of a drop-in clinic too. There were two GP surgeries in her village and she thought that one could be for older people and the other for young people. In a village ‘people know each other’, and she felt that this could be hard for teenagers who went to the doctor’s on their own.

Hannah and Winston felt that a young people’s clinic would be helpful for teenagers who are concerned about sexual health and contraception.

Mental health clinics for young people

Nikki felt that mental health clinics specifically for young people would be ‘a really good idea’ as she believed that there needs to be a much greater focus on mental health. In a clinic focussing only on mental health problems and concerns, people ‘won’t be compared to those with physical health problems’.
 

It might be daunting for people to go to a mental health clinic but reassuring to know that they’re ‘not going to be alone’.

It might be daunting for people to go to a mental health clinic but reassuring to know that they’re ‘not going to be alone’.

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What if they had specific clinics for mental health, so once a week or, you know, two hours in the evening, you know every few days. How would you feel about that?

I think that would be a really good idea. Like they need to do stuff like that cos they need to focus on it a little bit more because I think everyone's going to experience a mental health problem at some point in their life because that’s just really the nature of life. But I think they need to do stuff like that. 

It might be a bit daunting for people to go to it, but then at least they know that they're not going to be alone when they go there. It's not going to be like…they're not going to be compared to different people with physical health issues because it's just going to be like.... Like whenever I go to somewhere that’s the same for physical health, I always think, 'Oh, well they're going to see this person as more important than me.' So maybe when it's just for mental health, maybe people won't feel like that.
Sophie felt that it would have been useful when she was going through problems to have had someone at the GP surgery ‘on hand to drop-in on’ who knew a lot about mental health. For her, a drop-in clinic on Saturdays would be convenient as it means that students could easily attend. She feels that young people’s main concerns are mental health, sexual health, and relationships, and that more information about these in schools would be helpful.

Lucy liked the idea of walk-in centres for mental health, maybe with counsellors available, as long as there wasn’t a three or four hour wait to see someone. She also felt that it would be good to have a young people’s support group for mental health at the GP surgery, one for people under 18 and another for young people over 18.
 

There are support groups at the local surgery for young carers, pregnant women, and alcoholism. A mental health support group run by a professional would be good.

There are support groups at the local surgery for young carers, pregnant women, and alcoholism. A mental health support group run by a professional would be good.

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You know, like walk-in centres. I was like, “What if you got them but for mental health as well?” Like you just went in, had a bit of a chat with someone, although it would be a bit rubbish, wouldn’t it? Because if it was anything like the walk-in centre we’ve got in town where it’s like three hours for an appointment, it would be a bit like you’re sat in this waiting room, waiting three hours to talk to someone. Like, “Oh, no.” And then you go in for like a 10-minute chat. Ignore that. That would be a rubbish idea.

But say it was a walk-in centre or a part, separate, just a separate part of the --

Yeah.

-- doctor’s surgery?

Yeah.

And, you know, you could walk in. Hopefully it wasn’t going to be three or four hours’ wait.

Yeah.

You know, maybe 20 minutes.

Yeah.

That kind of thing. Would that be good? A walk-in centre there, just off the GP’s surgery?

Yeah, yeah, that would be good. Just like a bit like a counsellors, something like that. You’d just go in. It would be like, if they had them like in all local GP’s, so then obviously they don’t get too clogged up. And it’s just like, “Look, I just, I need someone to talk to.”

How about mental health support groups at a GP’s surgery that, say, met up once every two weeks or something?

Yeah.

Made up of people, maybe there’s a professional there. But --

[Mmhm]

-- a support group at the surgery?

That would probably be good. Cos I know obviously you get those groups that’s like pregnant women groups, alcoholics’ groups. And I’ve seen them do them for young carers in the GP near me. But I’ve never seen anything like mental health based.

So that would be good?

Yeah.

And do you think it should be for, like two separate ones? One for over 25 or something and one for --

Yeah, like alternate them. Like maybe a teenage one and an adult one. So like 14, 13 to 18 and then 18 up.

Who, should someone run them?

Yeah.

Like someone who’s been through it? Or a professional of some sort?

Probably a professional of some sort, just to sort of lead it. Cos it would be, like otherwise it could possibly get a bit messy if people have like a difference in opinion.
Auberon liked the idea of having clinics specifically for young people – one for sexual health and another for mental health. He also thought that a mental health support group at GP surgeries would be helpful, perhaps every fortnight. The group could be run by young people and a mental health professional.
 

More health services specifically for young people would be good, including youth centres providing support for mental and physical health problems.

More health services specifically for young people would be good, including youth centres providing support for mental and physical health problems.

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So if you feel more comfortable with people around your age group, do you think it could be helpful if they had specific times for young people's clinics; or any ideas on that kind of thing?

Specific time for young people? Yes, I think they could be like in terms of sexual health and stuff. There could be a sexual health clinic as the nearest one is about…it's about ten minutes on a bus from there so…and there's also a GUM clinic located at their sistering hospital, at the hospital they're twinned with. But there could be a sexual health clinic or some young people's clinic or something. Or even young people's mental health clinic I would say.

At the GP's surgery?

At the GP's surgery.

So if there was a mental health, a young people's mental health clinic there, you would find that helpful?

Yes.

And who would it be run by if there was one there, what's the best thing if they wanted to hear your views on the services?

Probably by a psychiatrist really, I would say by a psychiatrist who would answer any questions. They might not know the person but at least they would answer any questions they might have and stuff, or prescribe any one off medications, or any medications that they're currently taking that, if you know what I mean. That can only be prescribed by mental health professionals, who does it themselves, so yeah.
Clinics for all age groups

Not everyone liked the idea of clinics specifically for young people, especially if they rarely went to the doctors’. Louis was unsure whether he’d like a young people’s clinic in GP surgeries because he ‘might see other people I knew there which, you know, makes me feel a bit awkward if I saw them’. But he felt that they could be useful if the clinics were run at school so that no one would have to miss lessons because of a doctor’s appointment. Peter felt that clinics just for young people were unnecessary because ‘you can feel that you’re being singled out....and it just alienates you from others’.
 

Young people might ‘shy away’ from clinics at the GP surgery. It could be embarrassing seeing someone there if you don’t know them very well.

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Young people might ‘shy away’ from clinics at the GP surgery. It could be embarrassing seeing someone there if you don’t know them very well.

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I'm not sure cos if they did a clinic I might see other people I knew there which might, you know, make me feel a bit awkward if I saw them. But it might be useful just…yeah cos then they'd have like a special time cos if they are at school, they might not want to miss school, so it would be handy; maybe if they had priority over certain times. But I'm not sure if you need to put loads of young people together if they kind of want a private kind of chat with the doctor, might be…it might kind of make them shy away from going to the doctors at that time.

Just wait till…is this a change of lessons?

Yeah.

So you mentioned that …just going back to what you said – you might see more young people there but, at the same time, during that time young people should be the priority?

Yeah.

Do you think there's an issue about seeing people from your class at the GPs, do you think it's a bit embarrassing or how do you feel?

I think it might be a bit embarrassing cos they might ask you what…why you're going there and you might not want to tell them if it's private. But my school's kind of far away from my house so I wouldn’t maybe see people from school maybe, to people I know from the local area, that might be a bit awkward too.

So what would…say you saw…you're not so close to school, but say you did see someone from your class there – would that be something embarrassing or depends who it is or how…?

It depends who it is and depends kind of what I'm going to the surgery, but it might be…it would be a bit awkward if it was maybe a private issue I was going to see the doctor and they might kind of ask me what…why I'm going there or....But if I knew them, if I was quite friendly with them, then it would be alright; maybe just chat to them while I'm waiting. But if I kind of didn’t know them and it was a bit awkward, I think I'd definitely feel embarrassed.

And if you saw someone from your local area there, would that make you feel just as awkward?

I think it would be just as awkward depending on how well I know them or how close I was or how friendly I was with them or…yeah that depends on that.
 

Being in the same clinic as everyone else can help you feel independent. Peter feels that it’s good to be in the same situation as other people.

Being in the same clinic as everyone else can help you feel independent. Peter feels that it’s good to be in the same situation as other people.

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So if there was a clinic at the surgery that was just for young people, do you think that would be helpful or do you think it's not really necessary?

I think it wouldn’t be really necessary because you can feel that you're being singled out and other people, like it just alienates you from others. You want to be in the same clinic especially if you want to be more independent. You don’t want others to feel that others are sort of intruding on you and forcing you to do this or that, so it's good to be in the same situation as other people.
Gentian felt that a young people’s clinic run at a specific time might not be convenient for everyone. He believed that young people should be able to go to the surgery ‘whenever they’re available, not just when the GP says they can come’. Tagbo felt that, although having young people’s clinics might encourage more people to see the GP, teenagers ‘want to be like adults’ and might prefer to see the doctor when it fits in with their own schedule and without parents. Sarah also disliked the idea of young people’s clinics as they’d ‘partition off young people...you’re kind of diminishing them as a person’.
 

As a teenager, Sarah ‘wouldn’t have gone near anything that said this is for young people’. She would have felt that it was aimed at children.

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As a teenager, Sarah ‘wouldn’t have gone near anything that said this is for young people’. She would have felt that it was aimed at children.

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I think the problem is when you partition off young people is that you’re already making a partition that is problematic because if you stick something in front of people, you’re kind of diminishing them as a person. So if you’re calling them “Young people,” it implies because you need separate treatment to “Normal” people and you’re creating a binary that I think is really problematic and I think actually, no, there shouldn’t be anything specifically for young, specifically targeted as ‘Young’. But I don’t know how you address that because, when I was a teenager, I wouldn’t have gone near anything that said this is for young people. Because I would have been like, “Well, that’s for children.”
Telephone helplines

Paula thought it would be helpful to have a telephone service specifically for young people where they could phone in with their queries and concerns. Auberon would also have liked a telephone helpline for young people, as long as they could get through direct to a GP and not to an automated service giving information, while Lucy felt that an NHS non-emergency number specifically for mental health would be useful for people of all age groups. Nikki thought a young people’s helpline would be helpful if it was promoted enough and people knew it was available. She’d sometimes used the Samaritans helpline and thought it was important for young people to know what support was available. She felt that a helpline run by and for young people ‘would be a really good idea’ or a texting service where young people could ‘interact and support each other’.
 

Nikki often found it hard to talk about mental health. She found an organisation that she could text and they’d text her back with coping strategies.

Nikki often found it hard to talk about mental health. She found an organisation that she could text and they’d text her back with coping strategies.

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Would any other ways be good for people, whether that’s being able to email a GP, or drop in clinics – anything like that?

Yeah I think… like a lot of the time people use social media, messaging and stuff, a lot. And one of the services I used to use, I could text them and that was like really, really helpful as a young person because I find it difficult to speak on the phone. Sometimes as well I find it difficult to speak to people face to face, so texting was really good. So I think maybe if they…it might be difficult to do but maybe if they like sort of made it a bit more relevant to young people, like texting or something, that would be really good.

Can you tell me what was really helpful with the texting? So with the organisation, could you text them a question or what would you…how did it all work that was good?

So I would text them if I needed something, if I forgot when the next appointment was, if I… if I needed some sort of support or anything. And then they would be really, really helpful and they'd say, "Why don’t you try this?" Like they would text like one of the coping strategies I could try for example. It just really helped because sometimes like you just…you can't get it out in words, like so it's just a lot less daunting to text sometimes.

So you could text how you were feeling and they would text back straight away?

As soon as they could, yeah.
Sophie had phoned the Samaritans too and liked that ‘there’s someone always there at the end of the phone’. Siobhan preferred texting to talking to someone from the Samaritans and would have liked them to have an email service. She also liked the idea of a young people’s helpline at the GP surgery and felt that someone working specifically with young people would be less likely to use medical jargon. The Samaritans do offer an email service, and details about it can be found on their website.
 

The Samaritans were very helpful when Sophie wanted someone to talk to about her feelings.

The Samaritans were very helpful when Sophie wanted someone to talk to about her feelings.

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What did you do then because you'd been put off going to the GP?

Yeah. Well I used…like my friends a lot, my family a lot tried to talk about it a lot. But also I found, yeah as things kind of came more popular on the internet, things like the Samaritans, of which I found really useful.

That’s really, you know helpful what you're saying.

Yeah.

So someone else who's in a similar situation, what would you…how would you say that the Samaritans have been helpful?

Well it's really just a case of like, when I was going to my GP it was because I…there was someone I wanted to talk to about my problems and I didn’t know how to go about kind of finding the solution. 

And so with the Samaritans and other things like that, it's just really good to know that there's someone always there like at the end of the phone. And, you know, you can say whatever you want to them and it's…yeah, they’ll talk to you. And if you just need a voice to talk to, it's really good.

So two things that you’ve mentioned a bit earlier is talking over the phone.

Yeah.

Because they don’t necessarily need to see anything.

Yeah, yeah.

And someone who knows a lot more about mental health problems and things like that, which you felt your GP didn’t.

Yeah.

Those things really made a difference then?

Yeah, definitely.
Susan said that it can take a long time for people to accept that they need help with a mental health issue. If young people could phone and talk to a professional with experience of working with young people and mental health problems, that would be helpful.
 

Not everyone with mental health issues will visit the GP. It would be good if a telephone service was also available in schools.

Not everyone with mental health issues will visit the GP. It would be good if a telephone service was also available in schools.

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If the NHS could do something, provide more services for younger people in their GP's surgeries, do you think that could be helpful and what kind of things could they provide?

I certainly think mental health things, but then I think it's really hard to actually get yourself to the stage where you want to see someone. Even though…I mean I know that the counselling service was advertised to me at Uni, but it really took me to be like, 'I have to sort this out,' and that took a long, long time. And maybe part of that was thinking that I wasn’t…it wasn’t serious enough, so maybe just, yeah it's really tough. 

I think it is helpful to have people that, not specialists, but people that have experience talking to young people, and just understanding their needs better because then I think that would help with just the general…I think once young people feel that GPs are good, then everyone will go. And I think…but it would take a while to spread round, yeah.

Would it be helpful at all if there was a telephone number available, almost like a helpline number specifically for young people, where they could phone and talk about mental health problems?

I think so, yeah, definitely. And especially something quite direct access where you don’t have to wait for ages I think would be really good. The other thing I think is in schools because if you're not someone that goes to the GP, you're not almost going to be exposed to it. Whereas everyone goes to school, or at least most people go to school, so that would probably be a…yeah.
For Gentian the main advantage of a helpline would be to get health questions answered without needing to see the GP. He felt that phoning a GP was better than emailing because emails might not get answered, and that hearing a voice is better than ‘just reading’. If there was such a helpline, Aaron felt it should be answered by people ‘trained in dealing with young people rather than general’.

Online health services and live chat

Tagbo liked the idea of a helpline for young people, and felt that such a service online might be used more often by teenagers, especially if they could ask health questions anonymously. He felt that young people might ask about sex, drugs, and relationships, and other topics that were hard to talk to parents about. Rowan and Emma felt that a live chat helpline would be good:
 

A live chat option similar to that found on the websites of some shops would be helpful. Questions should be answered by someone trustworthy, like a GP.

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A live chat option similar to that found on the websites of some shops would be helpful. Questions should be answered by someone trustworthy, like a GP.

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I think there’s a lot more kind of like online stuff going on that you could really, like maximise through a GP I think. Because as well a lot of people, as I say, are so embarrassed to go over, you know, things that maybe you shouldn’t be embarrassed about. But, you know, people obviously are entitled to whatever they wanna feel. And they would feel a lot more at ease if they could just say something, you know, get a quick response online as to what their next port of call should be. I think is, it would be really helpful.

Yeah, absolutely.

Yeah. I mean that’s obviously as long as it’s from a trusted source that, yeah, is reputable and obviously has it’s, you know, can’t just with any old man sitting there.

So how would you decide if a source is reputable?

Well, I think if those kinds of things like a GP kind of…You know how you can get, like when you go on to like Curry’s website and stuff, you can get like the live chat and it’s like ask for help, blah, blah, blah. If they had something like that, like for each surgery, that you had to log in to, I think then you would know it was legitimate. Which I actually believe that might already exist. 

But anyway I think that would be good, just to ask advice. Because, you know, it’s all good and well googling something, but that’s how people drive themselves crazy once they start a google search on something, you know. 

It’s like if you just have a known professional, potentially your own GP that you’ve been to and are familiar with, then I think that would be really helpful. You know, they could have a set amount of time during the day that they dedicate to answering questions. That people would know it was their time to log on and ask a question or something. I think that would be really helpful.
Support from other young people

Some people, like Rowan, preferred not to see others of their own age at the doctor’s surgery, but thought that talking to other young people could be a good idea instead of going to the GP surgery with minor worries. But Hazzan felt that, ‘If people are talking amongst themselves, then I don’t think they'd get anywhere….I think they'd need a GP to step in at certain points to answer questions that young people may have.’
 

If young people were given good health education, they could talk to help each other rather than going to the GP with ‘a silly question’.

If young people were given good health education, they could talk to help each other rather than going to the GP with ‘a silly question’.

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I think sometimes, and I think it…I really saw it at one of the conferences I went to recently. Doctors get so absorbed in their kind of primary care/secondary care/tertiary care, that actually they don’t always see the benefits of peer support. And when you are…if they are going in to schools and talking to young people, and if they have a good health education, then they can support each other too.

Young people?

Yeah. And I think it's important that when they do have a silly question that actually they won't need to go to the GP, they won't need to ring up, they won't need to Skype a GP because it might be answered by their friend. They might say, "Oh I've had that, it's just a bug going round" or something, or whatever it might be.

So young people talking to each other as well?

Yeah.
Auberon liked the idea of an online forum where young people could discuss their health problems or concerns with each other, and Susan felt that support from other young people for mental health would be helpful. She felt that ‘there’s still so much stigma’ around mental health but people are more likely to listen to those who’ve been through it because ‘it’s good to see it’s not just you’.
 

Younger people with mental health issues could benefit from talking to older people who’ve been through them too, maybe through instant messaging.

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Younger people with mental health issues could benefit from talking to older people who’ve been through them too, maybe through instant messaging.

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I think there should be like, even what if it's run by NHS, I think there should be like any mentoring session, like an older person would mentor online so it would all be confidential and they would all get their own username and you know what I mean. 

So it would all be confidential and no one would know where they would live, or any personal details about them. But if a younger kid just wanted to ask someone about a mental health, about an older person about their mental health experience or about an experience they're going through at the moment in terms of mental health, then that would be a very good way to ask them, because they will all remain confidential. No one would need to meet anyone face to face, and so yeah, so that would be…

So online, by email or instant messaging, or how would you say?

I was thinking of instant messaging of like a forum based website type thing. Because then, even if it's forum based, it would be like one response after another. Or they could also directly message…they might privately directly message the mentor themselves and ask them privately.

So would the mentor have any training as such?

The mentor would just be an older young person who had been through mental health problems before. And been all through the services and maybe not have training as such, but maybe have like things of what… not what to say on the site and to younger people and stuff. But I would think that they should…but the…but….sorry about that. I think that it would be that the older…that the younger person would benefit from hearing what the…of what the older person's views and experiences are.
 

If the opportunity came up, Nikki would be happy to run a support group at a GP surgery for young people going through mental health issues.

If the opportunity came up, Nikki would be happy to run a support group at a GP surgery for young people going through mental health issues.

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And the kind of peer support group that you run in the church, is that something you would feel interested in running in a GP's surgery if they were looking for people to run it?

Yeah.

Peer to peer support kind of thing.

Yeah. I mean I would be interested in doing pretty much anything because I just really want to help other young people or just anyone in general, regardless of age, to feel like they're not alone because no one is. Like I don’t…I hate it when someone comes to me and says that I feel really alone because it's just like…like I know how that feels and it's horrible. 

So I think I would run a peer support group at the doctor's surgery, anywhere that young people want it. Like anyone wants it because these sort of things really help; they make a difference and it's worth it then.
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