On Tuesday 1 March, we hosted our third children and young people Roadshow event aimed at the voluntary sector, schools and others working with children and young people. At the event, a panel of young people and representatives from YoungMinds, Off the Record Bristol and the British Youth Council spoke about their personal experiences of mental health problems and the opportunities for local services to engage in joint working and share their learning to tackle stigma and discrimination.

We were privileged to have one of our Time to Change young champions, Daniela, with lived experience of mental health problems, Mei Li, Youth Engagement Officer at YoungMinds and Aaliyah, young champion at YoungMinds, who kindly agreed to chat to us. Daniela, Mei Li and Aaliyah all spoke on the panel at the event.

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  • Why do you think it is important to tackle stigma and discrimination for mental health?

Daniela: It’s important to tackle stigma and discrimination for mental health because those living with mental health problems shouldn’t have to decide whether to receive treatment or to avoid stigma from health professionals, whether to be open with family and friends or to not lose those relationships, whether to be honest on job applications or to not lose out on jobs. When I was struggling, I was already in such a horrible place, but after facing stigma from those around me, I was in it completely alone. The isolation that came from others misunderstanding and lack of knowledge made everything so much worse.

Aaliyah and Mei Li: Mental health affects everyone in, directly or indirectly, and we know that 9 out of 10 people with mental health problems are affected by stigma and discrimination. It can be as much of a problem as the illness itself, or even harder to deal with. It's important to tackle stigma and discrimination as it has serious, negative impacts. This needs to change so that people with mental health problems are accepted and supported without being treated and judged unfairly.

  • What role can the youth sector (including schools, youth clubs and voluntary sector organisations) play in supporting young people’s wellbeing and attainment?

Daniela: The youth sector can play a huge role in supporting the wellbeing of young people, from providing a safe space for them to talk, away from judgement and stigma, to teaching them how to look after their own mental health. Raising awareness of mental health problems among young people allows for early detection and intervention, but also, allows young people to be open with their peers, without fear of judgement. When a young person’s wellbeing is supported, improving their attainment becomes a lot easier.

Aaliyah and Mei Li: The youth sector can play a positive and empowering role in supporting young people's wellbeing and attainment. By providing skills and support in all areas of life and learning, the various bodies of the youth sector can enable young people to reach their full potential and be best prepared to manage when life throws a curve ball. It's an exciting time of growth, learning, experimentation and adventure that will hopefully lead to independent, headstrong adulthood. Schools, youth groups and others in the youth sector can provide crucial guidance and a nurturing environment to pave a path to good wellbeing, acceptance of oneself and others, and meaningful connection.

  • How do you think the sector can work in a more joined up way?

Daniela: Where young people are receiving support from CAMHS, I think it’s vital for there to be more communication between health professionals and other youth sector professionals. Having had a member of staff from my school attend appointments with me, I can’t stress enough how helpful it was to have someone to both stand up for me in appointments where I wasn’t receiving sufficient care, but also, to warn teachers if I was struggling. Mental health problems can’t be seen as a different professional’s problem to deal with. A young person can be referred on to another service, but it needs to be seen less as passing the baton along, and more as extra support, on top of what is already being provided.

Aaliyah and Mei Li: Communication is the key; building and maintaining regular pathways of constructive, solution-focused and sustainable ways of working together. Local as well as wider scale organisations in the youth sector should come together and have face to face forums (or other forms of connection) where important ideas and information can be shared and discussed openly. Formal and informal networking events and circulars should be created so that we get to know who's who and what's happening where.

  •  What would you like mental health provision for young people to look like in 5-10 years?

Daniela: Ideally, in 5-10 years, I hope mental health provision for young people will revolve around early intervention, and providing comprehensive care for all those who need it, not just those who are already at a crisis point. I hope that schools and CAMHS, as well as other relevant youth organisations in a young person’s life, can work together, with the young person, to provide helpful and effective support. Most importantly, it would be nice to see mental health professionals, as well as other youth professionals, that aren’t stigmatising and discriminatory to service users.

Aaliyah and Mei Li: It will be great in 5 -10 years when young people have a range of choices when it comes to ways of accessing information and support, mental health professionals and services, a variety of therapeutic management, less waiting times for any level of 'priority', and young people not being afraid to speak up sooner rather than later about concerns.

  • Why does it matter to you that the youth sector focus on young people’s mental health?

Daniela: Mental illness is something that will undoubtedly affect every young person, whether personally or through friends or family members, but mental health is an integral part of all of our lives. Without good mental health, all other parts of our lives begin to suffer from our relationships with family and friends, to our physical health, to our ability to learn and reach our goals. With the mental health services being unable to provide the support so many young people need, the youth sector have the opportunity and responsibility to bridge the gap between the needs of young people and the reality of what they are receiving. 

Aaliyah and Mei Li: We all have mental health and if we're going to have mental health problems at any point in our lifetime, research tells us that they are most likely to first show when we're young and are best managed sooner rather than later. Mental health problems can affect all aspects of life, so we need to have good understanding, skills, and resilience. Young people are the future - it's cliché but it's true: young people need nurturing and good foundations to build upon to become resilient, healthy adults and pass these on to future generations. 

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