Less than a year ago, Thomas Beasley, 18, of Coventry, was still an inpatient at Cygnet Hospital Joyce Parker after suffering with his mental health since he was 16 years old. He has since been diagnosed with Complex PTSD, ADHD and Autism.
He has now begun working for the Lived Experience Network as an Expert by Experience – someone who has personal experience of using or caring for someone who uses health, mental health and/or social care. He will be supporting young people hospitalised due to their mental health at Cygnet Health Care services.
Thomas has shared his story as part of Children’s Mental Health Week, a week which puts a spotlight on the importance of mental health in young people and aims to give a voice to every child in the UK.
He was first hospitalised at the age of 16 and spent time at other services before he was transferred to the Coventry-based hospital. He completed nine months of treatment at Cygnet Joyce Parker Hospital and upon discharge in early 2023, he knew immediately that he wanted to help others.
His Occupational Therapist encouraged him to become an Expert by Experience and now he will use his experience to talk with current young service users and report any feedback back to senior staff so that necessary changes can be made to ensure the service provides the best care to those who need it.
He said: “I want to speak up for people who don’t have a voice. When you’re in a mental health service, sometimes you just don’t have the strength in yourself to speak up about what you need. I’ve been there and I know what can help and what hinders. I want to share that expertise to help get others into a good place.”
Cygnet Joyce Parker Hospital is a Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service based on Lansdowne Street, Coventry. The service supports young people aged between 12 and 18 with mental health needs in low secure, psychiatric intensive care and acute environments. The aim of the service is to help young people stabilise and return home as soon as possible. Thomas will balance his role with his other part time job in a local supermarket.
He praised Cygnet Joyce Parker Hospital for the role it played in helping him recover.
He explained: “Without Cygnet Joyce Parker Hospital, I genuinely wouldn’t be where I am today. The treatment was so person-centred, they really cared and wanted me to be the best person I could be. It is the place I felt safest and most understood and the staff were just incredibly compassionate. This is a chance for me to give back.”
Talking about the importance of his role, Thomas said it was crucial to have people who could empathise with what the young people are going through. He said: “I hope I can be an inspiration for young people who are still struggling. It is important to give them hope for the future, and help them realise that things can and do get better.
“The Expert by Experience role opens up a new door for inpatients and gives them a new pathway of communication. They know we are non-judgemental so they open up a lot more. They know we understand what they are going through. Also, it sends a strong message to the young people still in treatment that it can be done. They can see there is opportunities for them out in the community and it gives them extra motivation to commit to their treatment and get well. You can say `I got through it` and it’s possible for other people to do the same.
Thomas said one of the first priorities for him will be assessing the environmental surroundings of the hospitals and ensuring facilities are suitable for those with sensory needs.
He added: “Being an Expert by Experience helped me in my final stage of my recovery, it’s shed light on my treatment and it’s given me a lot of acceptance and understanding. It has put it into perspective how far I’ve come. Now I can use that as a starting block to help others.
“I want to actively listen to what the young people need and relay that accurately to those that have the power and the means to do something about it.”
In 2018, Cygnet became the first independent provider of healthcare services to invest in a full-time Expert by Experience Lead.