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Creating calm from KAOS

The theme of Mental Health Awareness Day this year is ‘young people and mental health’. To mark the day, Barney Dunn, Youth Worker at King’s Adolescent Outreach Service (KAOS), blogs about of the positive effects of offering holistic support to young people on adult wards at King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.

KAOS teamKing’s Adolescent Outreach Service (KAOS), run in partnership with youth work charity Redthread, is a newly-launched youth work-based service with support of a team of 30 clinicians across a huge range of specialities, including gynaecology, social work, nutrition, paediatrics, trauma and haematology. Everyone on the team is passionate about optimising care for young people. The aim is to provide a specialist, holistic service to young people admitted on adult wards, acknowledging that they have a specific set of social and emotional needs and that the hospital provides a rare opportunity to reflect on and put steps in place to address these needs. 

[Image left to right: Dr Hannah Baynes and Dr. Simon Chapman, Paediatric Consultant & co-leads for KAOS and Barney Dunn]

Scary but empowering

Ciara*, 18, was being treated on a remote adult ward at King’s College Hospital. She was on a specialist respiratory ward, although her presenting condition was not respiratory related, and she was by far the youngest there. This meant she had to see doctors from outside the ward which made Ciara feel out of place. As I rounded the corner, she told me that she felt nervous speaking to me but that she’d ‘give it a go’. For an hour we talked about her various hospital admissions over the past year and the diagnoses she had been given for her symptoms (urinary tract infection, irritable bowel syndrome and cystitis). Alongside this we spoke about her mental health and how she suffered from anxiety and panic attacks. As we unpicked both sides of the same coin curiously together, it began to dawn on Ciara that many of her admissions were in large part psychological. She starts to nod, eyes wide looking down at her feet – the prospect was both scary and empowering. I went on to explain the role of the Adult Psychiatric Liaison Team at King’s College Hospital and how they might help, to which she responded:

I didn’t even know you could talk to people about your mental health in hospitals!

This conversation was another powerful reminder of the importance of a holistic approach to healthcare in helping young people access the support they need. If you give young people the space to talk openly and are interested and compassionate in your approach, it is not long before you cast aside the impression of young people as ‘difficult’, ‘closed-off’ and ‘hard-to-reach’. The results can be eye-opening.  

Young people want to talk

Six months into the project, the most striking message is that young people want to talk: 83% of young people engaged with the service and out of the 80 young people seen, nearly a third were referred or signposted to a local mental health service. KAOS is all about looking behind the presenting condition, whether that may be a road traffic accident, an epileptic seizure or an ovarian cyst.  This is important for young people’s current and future health as they transition into adulthood. It is estimated that 70% of adult preventable deaths are the result of behaviours initiated or reinforced in adolescence and 75% of mental illness appears before the age of 24. KAOS is pleased to be part of King’s College Hospital’s wider vision to make care for young people more age-appropriate and to bridge the gap between mental and physical healthcare.

You can get in touch with the KAOS team on

Visit King’s Health Partners Mind & Body to find out more about how we’re driving integrated mental and physical healthcare.

*Patient name changed to protect confidentiality