Social media impacts on mental health worker's job

By Adam Cailler

RACHEL Lightstone has spent the majority of her adult life as a specialist in child and adolescent psychiatry.

She has a special interest in the diagnosis and treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and in the treatment of depression and eating disorders in young people.

The majority of the 45-year-old's working career has been spent in Bury, Greater Manchester, where the increase in the use of social media has had a large impact upon her job.

Leicester-born Rachel, who is married to Mancunian Richard Stone, said: "I see a lot of young people with anxiety, depression and self-harm and it would be rare to have a consultation that doesn't relate to an issue happening on social media.

"It can range from bullying or concerns about appearance and the number of 'likes' a post will get.

"The pressure on young people is immense and that certainly has had an affect on it. There are also increasing concerns about grooming and exploitation online.

"I haven't got a blanket bit of advice, but my role as a doctor is about diagnosing and treating serious mental illness - every child I see is really quite unwell and unique and different to every other child."

Rachel, the daughter of Vera and Bertram Lightstone, grew up as part of the small Jewish community in Leicester.

Despite there being no Jewish school, she did attend cheder twice a week and attended Maccabi club on a Sunday evening.

She said: "I have a very strong Jewish identity, with a big cohort of Jewish friends.

"Whenever we all go back to the shul on Rosh Hashana, it's like a reunion.

"Growing up, I went to shul on a Shabbat but then went to watch Leicester City play at Filbert Street that afternoon."

The mother of eight-year-old Rafi and Ilana, 11, has also spent time working in Cardiff and Leeds.

Rachel's work, while based in Bury, has seen her spend a lot of time dealing with more Orthodox community members.

She said: "I've always had a strong Jewish identity, but have never looked after people from the Jewish community - including the charedi community.

"Mental health has a stigma within every community, but over the years I've seen a shift where more and more charedi young people have come in for help.

"The younger children come in, predominantly, looking for help with autism and ADHD while the older age group, early teens, come in with depression, self-harm and eating disorders.

"Being Orthodox doesn't protect you from these kind of problems.

"When you work with a child who is mentally ill in the Jewish community, you have parents who are incredibly caring and their child is priority.

"I would find that they would be brought to every appointment and follow all of the advice given - I didn't find those kind of barriers that you would probably assume there would be.

"The biggest barrier was getting them there in the first place."

According to the National Institute on Mental Health, less than 25 per cent of those with a mental illness in the UK's Orthodox Jewish communities have adequate treatment, while many in the Orthodox world are not aware of the services available to them.

Rachel continued: "I did have some barriers initially getting into the schools.

"I think there was this shift of someone coming in from the outside, but I have seen a shift away from that in recent years.

"I went in to many schools - the real charedi schools - to talk about mental health issues and social issues.

"Again, being in the Orthodox community doesn't protect you from social issues.

"I've seen children with a history of domestic violence or drug and alcohol misuse. No community is immune from that."

Being Jewish does make it easier for her to communicate and understand the issues that the more Orthodox patients come to her with.

She added: "The expectations in Jewish families are sometimes higher than in other families.

"A 15 or 16-year-old in a non-Jewish family who has ADHD and struggles to learn could be off studying something practical, like mechanics, when he leaves school.

"But an Orthodox Jewish teenager is expected to carry on learning and probably go to yeshiva, so the pressure on them is great.

"That can affect the length of time they are in treatment and the approach.

"Being Jewish, although I'm not massively Orthodox, does give me that greater understanding of the issues they face and how it affects their mental health."

Rachel joked that some of her colleagues, during her time at Bury's Fairfield Hospital, would be shocked when a young patient admitted to not having a television.

She said: "They would ask me how that could be. To them it would sound almost abusive, but I understood and recognised that this was their way of life and their belief and that they had so many other positive things in life that were precious to them."

Rachel has recently taken up a new role at Healthy Young Minds Stockport, but admits to missing working with the Jewish community.

With the General Election around the corner and the NHS, of which Rachel works in, being one of the major talking points, what have some of the biggest changes within the service been during her time at the organisation?

She said: "Change is constant. There's never been a time where it's been static. The biggest change has been the funding and financial constraints.

"Sometimes that is not a bad thing and can help. They can make you rethink how to deliver services more efficiently and effectively.

"There has been an increase in rates and amounts of mental health problems - it could be down to many different social changes, ie social media, family breakdowns etc."

Rachel admitted that her job has changed how she deals with her own children.

She said: "From the moment they are born, you worry about them and from the first time they speak, you are relieved that they haven't got different conditions - these things are always on your mind.

"I do get worried because my job is really busy and sometimes I'm not there to pick them up from school.

"From a practical point of view, I wonder if it has a negative impact on my kids while I'm looking after everyone else's kids!

"But I think they are robust and are proud of - and understand - what I do.

"I'm always thinking about what they say and worrying about it while trying to pre-empt things."

Rachel is also a governor at North Cheshire Jewish Primary School, where she is responsible for the safeguarding training of staff and parents.

She admits to being a "proper fan" of Leicester City and, like pretty much every football fan around the world, never thought the club's Premier League title win last season would happen.

Rachel, who will be in the away section at her club's game against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium this weekend, said: "This season has been a little disappointing and there was a little anxiety at the start of the season that we would get relegated.

"One of my children is a big fan, while the other supports Manchester United - as does my husband.

"My daughter has a full Leicester kit and there is a bit of a rivalry in our house."

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© 2017 Jewish Telegraph