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Dr Dan: “Seeing young people realise how much power they can have is always humbling”

Sheffield Children's Hospital sign
05 February 2021

It’s Children’s Mental Health Week and at Sheffield Children’s there are many people across the Trust working to support the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people.

Meet Daniel Ulrich, a Doctor of Clinical Psychology (a ‘Clinical Psychologist’) who works with children and young people at Sheffield Children’s Hospital. He is part of a team of Clinical Psychologists and Family Therapists who help children and young people with managing their stress, physical symptoms and mental health.Dr Dan selfie

The team is specialised across various departments of the hospital. Dr Dan mostly works with people who have problems with their stomachs and digestive systems (gastroenterology) and with people who have difficulties with toileting (things like continence problems or constipation). He will also be working with young people experiencing chronic pain. He has also worked in the past in many different areas, from renal (kidney) medicine, to child and adolescent mental health, learning disability and sexual health for adults as well as supporting people with autism and people who have had strokes.

Dr Dan talks about his work at Sheffield Children’s:

Supporting children and young people

“We work together to think about things like stress, anxiety, feeling low or angry, all sorts of emotions. By talking about it, understanding how our brains work and the habits they fall into, we can practice things to help us manage these emotions and the effects they have. This can help people deal with health conditions they have had diagnosed, help with stress, anxiety or other emotions they naturally experience, and can also help where people have physical symptoms that the doctors of medicine haven’t been able to find a treatment or procedure to help with.”

Dr Dan’s day to day

“I hold a caseload of several young people with various difficulties such as adjusting to having an illness, overcoming some problems or managing their physical symptoms. I see most of the people I work with fortnightly for an hour at a time. I use several different types of therapies and psychological interventions depending on what someone needs help with. Sometimes I see people at our Paediatric Clinical Psychology department right next to the hospital, sometimes I see them over video calls at their homes, and sometimes I come to see people at their bedside in the hospital, depending on what’s needed.

We look at what’s going on in that person’s life, what they experience, how they feel about things, and we work out what we can do to help things feel better. This sometimes means talking about how we feel and discussing where things have been difficult. It also means learning tricks, tips and techniques we can use to help us live a more fulfilling lives, getting back to doing the things that matter most to us.

I often also work with the families of the young person to help them with ways to support the young person with their physical and mental health.

In addition to this, I also offer training and consultation to other health professionals on psychological aspects of chronic illness as well as helping hard-working healthcare staff manage the ups and downs of their roles through supervision.

Some of the Clinical Psychologists in our team also conduct research to help us understand better how to help people with particular issues they are having. This research can then be shared with other areas (across the world) to help other young people.”

Resilience and creativity

“I am regularly delighted and surprised by the resilience and creativity of the young people I work with. Sometimes I might struggle to get a concept across, and more than once the young person has been able to understand the subject and think of creative (and often more fun!) ways of solving problems. It’s always a pleasure to help someone to access their true selves and to get back to living life in the way they want, which can be really hard when we’re ill.

“Seeing young people realise how much power they can have over how they feel and getting on with life despite physical symptoms or illness is always humbling.”

Tips to help young people struggling with their mental health

“Firstly, remember that everyone has times in their lives when things feel hard, when they feel worried or anxious or stressed, or they feel angry or very sad. We sometimes feel like there must be something wrong with us if our emotions feel strong, but actually if we were honest with each other, it’s really very normal to have emotional reactions. I’d be very surprised if anyone comes to hospital without feeling at least a little worried! You are not alone, and there is a lot of useful information out there to help you understand what you are feeling and tips and tricks of ways to manage those emotions. It’s a normal part of growing up to have emotions we don’t understand yet, and talking to other people we trust can really help manage this stage of our lives.

Talk to your parents about how you feel. It can be tempting to keep it to ourselves, perhaps we worry others won’t understand or that they’ll think we’re silly or not trying hard enough or something. Your parents will have felt the same at times too, and can help you understand the way you feel and might have tips on ways to help.

Try not to make big changes to the things that usually make your life feel more ‘normal’ if you can help it. We all tend to back away from things like our hobbies, seeing friends and going to school when we feel ill or are having difficulties with the way we feel. This tends to make things feel better at first, but worse in the long term. It’s better to try (where you can) to keep up with friends and talk to them, try to keep up with school and talk to your parents and teachers if you are having difficulties. Keeping up our hobbies is very important too because they bring us a lot of fun and excitement and life might not be as nice without them!

If you think you are struggling with your feelings, if you feel very stressed or worried or sad, or perhaps you’re not really sure how you feel, talk to someone about it. Ask your parents about it, and if you think you might need help, ask as soon as you feel like this. These problems can often be managed once we know what’s going on, but they tend to get harder to deal with if we pretend they aren’t there and put off talking about them. If you don’t want to talk to your parents, tell an adult you trust like a teacher or your GP, who will be able to offer you help.”

Reach out for help

If you know someone who is struggling with their mental health, encourage them to go to their GP.

You can find out more about other ways to get support, here:

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