The Hot Potato project: tackling mental health issues in young people

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The Hot Potato project: tackling mental health issues in young people

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Zoe Butler's innovative project to address the 'hot potato' of mental health issues in young people saw her crowned winner of Andrew Parker Student Nurse Award at the 2017 RCNi Awards 


Janet Kay with Zoe Butler. Picture: John Houlihan 

My passion for improving mental health services started after a young woman I knew took her own life. She was part of a theatre group I volunteered for, and the distress experienced by fellow members prompted me to take action.

The young people in the group required care, support and compassion to cope with their bereavement, so I decided to produce The Hot Potato Project, aimed at tackling the 'hot potato' subject of mental health and removing stigma.

I contacted local mental health services and talked to young people accessing child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) about their experiences. This made me aware of the deep feelings of misunderstanding experienced by these young people, especially from their peers and health professionals. 

Challenging negativity 

After gaining consent, I documented their experiences and developed focus groups, enabling those who engage with mental health services to share their stories with their peers. Members could also ask questions and explore what it means to maintain good mental health.

I collaborated with a local writer and the youth members to write and film 40 monologues, and after much campaigning, the project received funding from local charity The Sir John Fisher Foundation. This enabled us to produce a DVD resource, distributed to every school in Cumbria, to help raise awareness about mental illness. 

To help address feelings of misunderstanding between young people and health professionals, the DVD has been used in my university to help educate nursing students about mental health issues. The aim is to help them to challenge negative attitudes and adopt a more considered approach when caring for people accessing services. 

To be a nurse is to be a role model and ambassador, not only for your patients but for your peers and other health professionals. Promoting nursing requires compassion, commitment and competence to achieve goals set in collaboration with patients and fellow health providers. 

Empowering others 

Undertaking this project helped me to truly understand the meaning of holistic care, and the importance of considering a patient or service user's wishes, needs and fears. It also helped me to develop the ability to communicate with consideration, compassion and empathy, allowing clients and patients to feel comfortable disclosing what can sometimes be difficult and uncomfortable narratives.

One of the developments I am most proud of within my own skillset is the ability to motivate others without being overbearing, sharing my passion and helping others to see the relevance and importance of mental health awareness and delivering holistic care. 

This project arose from my passion to motivate and inspire the promotion of excellence in learning environments, practice and the wider population. It has shown me what is possible when you empower those you care for, and I have developed a deep-seated desire to continuously seek new ventures and opportunities where I can promote good practice.

I have also learned not to be bound by my own specific field and to be committed to providing high quality care to everyone.


Zoe Butler is a third-year adult nursing student at the University of Cumbria and winner of the RCNi Andrew Parker Student Nurse Award 2017