CAMHS spotlight interviews #4 – Dr Simon Corke interviews Dr Meinou Simmons
10 October, 2023
Our series of blog posts sees leading child and adolescent psychiatrists conduct interviews between themselves to shine a light on their speciality. In this interview, Dr Simon Corke interviews Dr Meinou Simmons.
CAMHS spotlight interviews
- Interview #1 – Dr Jessica Scott interviews Dr Dasha Nicholls
- Interview #2 – Dr Richard Hayes interviews Dr Rory Conn
- Interview #3 – Dr John Ward interviews Dr Kate Stein
- Interview #4 – Dr Simon Corke interviews Dr Meinou Simmons
- Interview #5 – Dr Jenny Price interviews Dr Susan Howson
About Dr Meinou Simmons
Dr Meinou Simmons is a Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist and Training Programme Directors for CAMHS in Thames Valley.
She started her medical and psychiatry training in and around Cambridge. She took up her first CAMHS Consultant post in Oxford City CAMHS in 2015, then moved to Oxfordshire CAMHS Outreach Team in 2021, where she works with young people with complex mental health problems who struggle to engage with the general CAMHS outpatient services.
As well as being a medical educator, she is interested public mental health education and and recently published a book ‘A Guide to the Mental Health of Children and Young People: Q and A for Parents, Caregivers and Teachers’ following which she has engaged in public education activities such as podcasts, webinars and schools-based talks. She spoke with me about why she became a child psychiatrist, her current job and her passions.
What drew you into Child and Adolescent psychiatry?
I pretty much knew as a medical student I was drawn to psychiatry. I hadn't quite decided on which area of psychiatry until I worked on an adolescent inpatient unit when I was a junior doctor. There I discovered how much I enjoyed working with the young people and families: I loved their energy. I also realised that by supporting young people at crucial periods in their development that you help to change the course of their lives. I also really enjoy working within teams and also with colleagues in education and social care. I think that you can learn so much from working with others.
What does an average week look like for you?
In my clinical role working in CAMHS Outreach, each week is different. I'm clinical lead in my team so I work quite closely with the team manager and deputy, and we link in with our service manager to think about supporting the team as well as the direction of travel for the service. I contribute to our team meetings which often includes multidisciplinary team meetings and complex case discussions.
What happens clinically in the week depends on what's going on for the children and young people we work with. Often, I’m involved in network and multi-agency meetings around complex cases. I may have a home visit which can be anywhere in the county, and sometimes people come to clinic to see me, or they may request a digital review.
In my educational role as TPD, I often have queries that come through the week from the ST4-6 trainees and trainers. I’m always thinking ahead about training placements and training opportunities. I'm also supervising a core trainee in my team and I’m frequently teaching or examining students or junior doctors too.
What are the key attributes of a Child Psychiatrist?
In my view, basic human attributes such as patience, kindness and understanding are all important for child psychiatrists. Emotional resilience is also key as it’s a hard job as is the ability to deal with complexity. It is also helpful to be able to think on your feet as things can rapidly change and you need to be able to respond to this. I think being able to communicate with all sorts of different people is also very helpful.
I think CAMHS is an incredibly rewarding specialty. It can be hard emotionally to deal with it, but it is fantastic if you can change the course of children and young people's lives so I would encourage budding doctors and psychiatrists to consider it as a career option.
What is the future of Children's Mental Health?
Children’s Mental Health definitely needs more recognition and governmental investment as we know how integral children and young people’s mental health is to overall health. I think it is positive that stigma is reducing, but mental health is still unfortunately stigmatised in many communities. I think we need sustained investment in both preventative as well as supportive services. It's great that there's a lot more recognition of conditions such as autism out there. But it's not really acceptable that only one in three children and young people that need CAMHS are getting access to the service.
I think we are going to have to work creatively as we move forward. Children and young people are much more used to digital media, so we need to be moving with the times and working more flexibly to meet the needs of young people. I also think going out and offering community and schools-based interventions is going to be important.
How did you become interested in medical education?
I had a very traditional medical school experience at Cambridge with lots of rote learning of scientific facts and I felt this wasn’t necessarily the best way to train doctors. I started to look into learning theory and how to engage and motivate doctors in their learning. Then I took a local opportunity for progressing that further to do an MA in medical education which I found fascinating, especially understanding different learning styles. As a core trainee, I also really enjoyed teaching and this is an interest I have maintained.
I'm also interested in public education. During my last maternity leave for my third child in 2019, I had an idea to write a handbook for parents and caregivers around mental health prompted by getting questions from other parents about mental health issues and seeing how difficult it is to get reliable information in this area. I decided to write a book which has just been published in November 2022. This has led to wider educational activities as well: webinars, school-based events, radio interviews and podcasts which I have enjoyed doing.
Can you tell me a bit more about your book?
The book is called ‘A Guide to the Mental Health of Children and Young People: Questions and Answers for Parents, Caregivers and Teachers’. It's not designed to be read cover to cover but to be consulted as and when needed. I wanted to create useful resource for parents and professionals, with lots of signposts to other reliable information sources.
The book is divided into three main sections. The first section outlines factors which can impact on mental health from biological factors like genetics to lifestyle factors like sleep and nutrition. The middle section is all about how to develop and maintain relationships with children and young people and includes sections on managing school and parenting. The last section of the book goes through all the most common mental health difficulties and disorders in children and young people. And then there's a little bit at the end about first aid and I explain who's who in mental health teams. It’s designed to be a general guide for anyone who wants to develop their understanding of children and young people’s mental health and support their young people with mental health and wellbeing.
What do you do outside of work?
I’m a parent of three young children who take up most of my time outside of work! I really enjoy being outside, being out in nature and exploring with my family. I do quite a lot of running which is great for my own mental health and stress. And I also like reading, writing, travelling and spending time with friends and family.