How youth voice can help mental health
Our Young People in the Lead advisory panel member, Loren Townsend Elliot, talks about her journey to becoming a member of panel and how youth voice can raise awareness of youth mental health issues.
I’m 21 and from East London. I’m passionate about having conversations around youth mental health and well-being, a journey which is rooted in my lived experience and a drive for change.
I joined the St Mungo’s project, Putting Down Roots for YP, in 2018. I loved being part of a supportive team and found a passion for horticulture and talking about well-being. I was even supported to set up a social enterprise around youth voice, creativity and mental health.
I later joined the Our Bright Future program as a Youth Forum member in 2019. I’ve enjoyed running workshops around well-being and teaching British Sign Language for forum members. Recently, I became part of the steering panel for Our Bright Future, where I’ve developed my analytical thinking skills and confidence.
What does Young People in the Lead (YPIL) mean?
YPIL, for me, means young people being valued and included in conversations about us.
I want to raise awareness of mental health and how it underlies so many aspects of community projects.
I’m one in four
Research reveals that one in four people will experience mental health problems in any year, with 75% of all mental health problems starting before the age of 24. This is a key area to teach reliance and the skills to manage life’s challenges.
I was in and out of school due to my mental health and had to teach myself my GCSEs independently. This experience has shown me the importance of speaking out if you’re struggling.
I’ve also been inspired by the courageous young people I’ve met on my journey, often people who are unwell don’t have a voice in the conversations about their care, let alone about wider society. I became part of YPIL to allow people with mental health conditions to have a voice and to be heard.
I’m calling for change
My long-term hope is for all teachers and youth workers to be trained in spotting and supporting mental health conditions. We know that early intervention is key and training staff can ensure no young person goes without help.
In 2017, the Government said that it would give all teachers mental health training I’m calling for this to be followed through and extended to youth workers.
Alongside that, it’s important to recognise that mental illness doesn’t just affect an individual. Often their family, friends and teachers need guidance on how to support someone struggling.
By building up a strong support network, young people can share their experiences, knowing they are supported. I know that this would make a huge difference to young people’s experience of mental health, both in recovery and prevention.
What YPIL has taught me
YPIL has shown me the power of youth voice.
I’ve gained the skills and confidence to be an active part of conversations. For example, I was able to answer questions about mental health and youth programs in a meeting that Joe Rich, Head of Youth Voice at The National Lottery Community Fund, set up with funders.
I would never have been able to do this before joining YPIL! I’ve loved working with a diverse and amazing group of young people who inspire me continuously. I feel truly lucky to be on the team and to have a space to be heard.
Youth voice, mental health & pandemics
COVID-19 has shown what’s important in life and what can be improved on. There is predicted to be a huge spike in mental health conditions, so this is the time for the youth and education sector to support young people even more.
Youth voice is a great tool to do this. Empowering young people to be involved in decisions can lift people out of a closed mindset while giving an opportunity to impact their communities.
It’s not easy to be a young person right now. Lockdown has meant uncertainty around exams and career prospects. Activities like seeing friends and family, which was once enjoyable, has now become a stressful experience that requires careful planning. Often increased anxiety increases negative thoughts and emotions, which can be hard to manage in lockdown.
My tips for young people reading this blog is to do more of what you enjoy, keep growing as a person, but most of all be kind to yourself. Remember that your voice deserves to be heard and people are beginning to listen.