May was mental health awareness month and I wanted to talk about young people and mental health.
Young people are in need of mental health help more than ever, with 1 in 6 young people suffering mental ill-health in 2020, according to this survey by the NHS (this was 1 in 9 in 2017).
There are many reasons as to why young people are suffering with mental ill health, we could talk about the effects of social media, or climate anxiety, or loss of connection, support and resources due to lockdowns throughout the Covid 19 pandemic, young people today face and have faced many issues that make it harder for them to navigate day-to-day life.
School is a major cause of mental ill health for young people. In 2021 Mind conducted a survey of 1271 young people across England and found that:
- 96% of young people reported that their mental health had affected their schoolwork at some point.
- 78% of young people said that school had made their mental health worse.
- 56% of school staff identified that young people who didn’t receive support self-harmed.
- 48% of young people told us they had been punished at school for behaviour that was caused by their mental health problems.
- 25% of school staff said they were aware of a young person being excluded from school because of their mental health.
These are some really sad figures and they show the necessity for more support to be made available for young people. Increasingly cuts are made to these kind of provisions (along with many other services!) and doctors, schools, and community organisations do not have the capacity to ensure all young people are receiving the support they need.
Kingston Hub has been running the Empower mentoring programme since 2016.
With the aim of connecting student volunteers to young people and offering near-to-peer mentoring. While the volunteers are not healthcare professionals, nor are they therapists, they do offer support, advice and understanding to young people that need support. Some of the topics they discuss include healthy boundaries and relationships, future planning and goals, support with study skills or revision techniques as well as emotional understanding and understanding their identity.
This year we had a wonderful group of twenty-four volunteers mentoring in five different schools and community organisations, and we launched a new programme: Empower Arts. Empower Arts aims to offer young people that same support as Empower but through creative mediums: sculpting, printing, collaging all while having conversations and growing together.
I visited our Empower Arts group before the programme finished in March. It was so lovely to see young people bonding with students and with each other while getting creative. Some saw themselves as being the ‘art-y’ kind and others didn’t, but they all got stuck in, some surprised themselves, some, you could tell, were growing in confidence in their abilities and others were just having some fun. Empower Arts was meant to be a 1:1 mentoring programme but as with all good ideas, sometimes the first run doesn’t go the way it’s expected to. The student volunteers spent time with the young people as a group, they all learnt together, played together, created together and chatted. They teased each other playfully and supported each other, spoke about interests and friends, and the most important thing to a lot of teenagers — who they fancied at school.
It was lovely to see how much they appreciated that time with the volunteers, I was attending the final session and the young people kept suggesting they didn’t want the programme to end. I can’t say for certain how these sessions impacted these teenager’s mental health but I can say they seemed to be enjoying it and we got some great feedback!
I was reminded this week as I attended a ‘visible mending’ workshop (held by a fabulous 3rd year graphic design student, the KU Sustainability Team and the KU Student Inclusion Team) of the wellbeing effects for adults of being creative, having something practical to do, and bonding with people over darning paper socks (in our case!). We didn’t chat about who we fancied or our friends, but we held conversations about things we were passionate about, and the paper sock darning was a great way to break the ice.
(So, I didn’t get very far but it’s a start!)
Now, I’m not here to chat about mental health in adults (not because it’s not important, but because that would have to be a whole other blog!) but it occurs to me that if we learnt how to be supported, how to handle stress, set goals for ourselves (and reach them!), communicate openly, express ourselves, connect with others, how to develop healthy boundaries and understand healthy relationships, if we could understand who we are when we’re in our formative teenage years — wouldn’t things be just that bit easier as life gets a bit more complicated as we become ‘grown ups’ (I put ‘grown ups’ in quotes as I appreciate that those of us who are technically grown ups might not want to identify as such!).
This is why Empower and now Empower Arts exist. Young people need support now but also, when they engage with these programmes, we hope that they can take these lessons through life with them. Plus, I genuinely don’t think I’ve ever met a person that hasn’t, or wouldn’t, benefit from having another person to talk to, to listen to them.
Now, what can YOU do?
If you’re a KU student, come volunteer with us in the academic year 2023/4!
We’ll be recruiting volunteers again from September — you’ll be trained, DBS checked and supported into your placement with Empower or Empower Arts by us. All you have to do us to turn up, and be great!
How else you could help!
There are many organisations across London that you could volunteer at, or if you can’t donate your time, can you donate a little money to support them? If you can’t donate money maybe you could share their good work on social media? Or if you know a young person perhaps you could mention projects or organisations that can offer support to them?
Mind in Kingston is a great place to start if you need information about where to get help or how to provide support if someone close to you is struggling. They are also currently running Mindful Art Sessions every Tuesday for 16–25 year olds and they sound lovely.
Achieving for Children is a non-profit that runs services for Kingston Council, I don’t know that you can volunteer for them directly but check out the youth centres and programmes running across Kingston Upon Thames and Richmond and maybe reach out, see if there’s something you can do!
Hope for the Young is a South London charity that pairs volunteer mentors with young people seeking asylum or with refugee status. They are always on the lookout for new mentors!