Mental Health Awareness Week 2024

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Today marks the start of Mental Health Awareness Week (13 to 19 May), which each year aims to highlight the importance of our mental health and what we can do to support it.

For children and young people diagnosed with a serious illness, life changes in an instant with family life, schooling, social opportunities, health and wellbeing all being affected. Spending long periods of time in hospital undergoing treatment, away from family and friends can take it’s toll physically and mentally.

Spread a Smile supports our NHS hospital and hospice partners, providing entertainment, distraction and an the opportunity for children and young people in hospital to find fun and laughter in amongst it all.

Eleanor Tyrrell is Matron for Children and Young People’s Cancer Services at UCLH and we spoke to her about the role of Spread a Smile and how we are helping support the wellbeing of patients and their families.

“At UCLH there is a paediatric cancer ward, teenage cancer unit and a teenage and young adult daycare ambulatory cancer unit. One of the most vital areas of my role is ensuring the patient experience is as positive, calm and stress-free as possible.

“I first met Spread a Smile when I was Ward Sister on Lion Ward at Great Ormond Street Hospital in 2013. Josephine’s nephew was treated on Lion Ward and this is when she first discussed the idea of what became the beginnings of Spread a Smile. Josephine and Vanessa were passionate about making the hospital experience fun, cheerful and distracting for the child and diverting attention for the whole family away from the extremely stressful and difficult time.

“We all love seeing the wonderful influence Spread a Smile has on our patients, their families and friends. The patient experience is vital in the care we provide and seeing Spread a Smile boost children in hospital and change difficult moments into something joyous is very special.

“The positive impact of transforming a child’s and family’s hospital journey and supporting their emotional wellbeing cannot be underestimated. Spread a Smile demonstrates and values the importance of being fully inclusive to the young person’s family, carers, siblings and friends, which strengthens relationships and wellbeing. The team create special memories, experiences and opportunities for children and young people in hospital. Without this the child or young person’s hospital stay is extremely stressful and challenging.

“It is inspiring and rewarding to see how the charity has evolved. It can’t be underestimated how much Spread a Smile has impacted children and young people, their friends and families throughout England during their hospital stay. I have many memories of the talented team (including the therapy dogs) who have made our patients very happy, brightened their day and made them smile. I also have memories of the early days and seeing the hard work Josephine and Vanessa undertook to make their goals a success. They and the team should be really proud of what they have achieved and what they plan to achieve.”

Spread a Smile is proud to work with and support inspiring people like Eleanor and their teams. We currently work in partnership with 32 NHS hospitals and four hospice partners, spreading smiles when they are needed most. To support our work, please consider donating today. Thank you.