Telling My Truth

Truth is one of the main elements at the centre of Young People Insight, with young people being encouraged to tell their truths in their own words.  That is tell their truth without distortion from the media or pressure to say the right thing from others; just raw, unadulterated truth.

Image by geralt and used under Creative Commons License.
Image by geralt and used under Creative Commons License.

As the founder of Young People Insight, I thought it was important to share a little more of my truth with all of you.  I’ve previously shared my experience with self harm and explained why leaving university was one of the best decisions I ever made, but I haven’t shared any recent part of my story with you.

Trying to get Young People Insight off the ground has been a struggle, which I am still battling now.  I didn’t know where to start with the forums, I wondered how I was going to reach people, I found myself worrying about funds and the list goes on.  Countless questions, doubts and worries have been plaguing my mind.

All the while, I’ve had people congratulate me on what I’m doing and encourage me to keep pushing forward, but I found myself feeling like a failure.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of the brave step I’ve taken to even start something like this, but I feel like I’ve failed in the number of people I’ve reached and the time that it’s taken for me to actually start my forums.

You may be saying don’t be so hard on yourself, but that is a difficult feat for me.  I may come across as confident to a lot of individuals and seem like I have it all together, but that is so far from being the truth.

DSC_0738

As I strive on in my quest to build Young People Insight, I continue to battle the voices inside that tell me that I’m not good enough, not capable enough and not liked enough.  I fight against the fear of taking the next steps, but most of all, I fight against the desire to simply give up.

Over the past month, I found myself in a depressive state, dealing with grief and doubting who I was, what I was doing and what my purpose was in life.  I couldn’t write, I didn’t want to be around people and I even considered giving up on Young People Insight.  What made it harder was that during this time, my sessions with my counsellor came to an end, when I most needed to speak to her and have that safe presence in my life.

It was the second time in the last year that wanted to isolate myself from everyone, give up entirely and just be taken from this world — the first time was actually the reason why I found myself in counselling.  Nevertheless, I made the decision to battle on, because what I intend to do through Young People Insight is simply too important to simply give up on.

There are young people who need to be heard and feel like they matter.  There are networks that need to be formed and creativity that needs to be tapped into.  There is also a borough that needs to do all it can to reach as many young people as possible, and I intend to be a part of that.

I know that this journey will continue to get tougher, but I just need to take time to remember why I’m doing this.  It’s not about me, but it’s about all of the amazing young people who need to be seen and feel empowered to use their voices.

I want them to know that I genuinely care and that I’m not above them, or any better than them, because I haven’t got it all together myself.  I’m still figuring everything out, just like them, which is why I want us to go on this journey together.

Image by Blanka and used under Creative Commons License.
Image by Blanka and used under Creative Commons License.

To all my young people, just know that you can take the step to drop out of university and overcome struggles with mental health to pave your own way towards greatness.  I believe we all have special potential within us.

Improving support for young people dealing with self-harm

An increasing number of young people are engaging in self-harm, which is worrying, as it shows that it has become more common.  It’s sad when any young person resorts to self-harm, but sometimes it seems like the only option — I know, because I’ve been there.

However, there seems to be so little that young people know about self-harm — I was unaware that it was mental health problem until I actually started researching into it — and so many of them hide their self-harm that the official numbers are unclear.

There is also the question of why some young individuals feel afraid to tell someone that they’ve been self-harming or if they know where to get the help the need.  Although there is an increase in information and services available, more needs to be done to raise awareness of the information and services, so that young people know where to go for support and/or a helping hand.

Photo from mirror.co.uk.
Photo from mirror.co.uk.

In order to do this though, it is important to hear from the young people themselves, to learn what they understand about self-harm and how they think support available for them can be improved.

Young People Insight has developed a survey on self-harm with the young mental health charity, Off The Record Youth Counselling Agency, for 13-19 year olds who are living, working or studying in the borough of Croydon.  We want to gather knowledge on their experiences with self-harm, so that more detailed information will be available to help young people in Croydon dealing with it.

Self-harm affects a lot of young people and there should be as much support as possible, in order for them to work through it and learn to deal with their emotions in a safe, effective way.  This survey will allow us to help young people dealing with self-harm, so please click the link and share it for us to reach as many young people as possible: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/59LDVYB

The Time is Now

The budget unveiled by the Conservatives this week revealed that they were scrapping the maintenance grants for lower-income students, but allowing universities to increase their fees beyond £9,000.  This is in spite of some students already resorting to extreme measures to stay financially afloat.

Rather than effecting their pockets, the constant pressure put on students in schools and the over-focus on exams is having a negative effect on their mental health.  It is no secret that the number of young people self-harming is on the rise; however, there continues to be a lack of understanding.  There needs to be some sort of module on mental health in schools.

Knife crime shows no sign of letting up and if anything, these stabbings seem to be a more frequent occurrence.  We are fooled by the news of reported knife crime being down, without considering that there were increases in most offense groups.

Image by PublicDomainPictures and used under Creative Commons License.
Image by PublicDomainPictures and used under Creative Commons License.

According to The Guardian, “Young people are nearly three times more likely to be unemployed than the rest of the population, the largest gap in more than 20 years, according to an analysis of official figures.”  Then there is also the problem of young people eventually becoming employed, and then struggling to progress in their field, buy a property or even live above the bread line.

The number of young people who are homeless is ‘more than three times the official figure’, and mental health waiting lists are ‘spiralling out of control’.  There are a number of other issues facing young people, as they strive to grow and move forward in life.

However, the system and powers that be continue to find ways to hold them back or put them down.  Too often, the youth are an afterthought or not seen as important as their elders.  They keep squeezing us and cutting our funding or services, but they are always quick to come down hard on us when anything goes wrong.

Nevertheless, it is up to us as young people to help ourselves and fight through the system that wants to keep us down.  We have the capabilities and through the right action, our voices will be heard.  And even if they don’t want to hear us, then at least we will be paving our own way and making a better life for the youth at present and the youth of the future.

Photo by real-napster and used under Creative Commons License.
Photo by real-napster and used under Creative Commons License.

You just have to ask yourself, what can I do to be the change and how can I get involved to make a change?  The time is now.

Guest Post: What it’s like living with depression and anxiety disorder

Rhianna shares her story about what life is like living with depression and anxiety disorder, as she tries to defy the “depression stereotype”.

“Just sleep on it, you’ll feel better in the morning”. The most common thing I hear from people. However, depression is not something that you can sleep on. Things don’t just miraculously “get better” in the morning. Depression is more than just a low mood or a sequence of bad days; it is a very real illness.

I’m a young person and I suffer from severe depression, alongside anxiety disorder. I’ve been suffering from depression for five years, been clinically diagnosed three times, and “overdosed” is printed out on my doctors records under the title, “important information”.

I was recently diagnosed with anxiety disorder, although I’ve been aware of it for longer. I’ve hidden self-inflicted scars so I wouldn’t be judged by people in a world where depression is brushed off as being weak and just too pathetic to deal with the hustles and bustles of life. Suicide has also been a common underlying thought.

My journey with depression and anxiety disorder has been a roller coaster. It’s been consuming, overwhelming, frustrating, life changing, and above all downright tiring; it’s been exhausting.

Photo by somecomputer and used under Creative Commons License.
Photo by somecomputer and used under Creative Commons License.

Although over the years I’ve had fleeting moments of happiness, joy and hope, the majority of the time I’ve felt helpless, hopeless, disconnected, cold, careless, numb, stupid, paranoid, worried, doubtful, and overall an overwhelming sense of not belonging. I’ve also felt empty or extremely disconnected from everything in this world, struggling to find a purpose. These are only but a few of the emotions I battle with daily.

A while ago I decided that I couldn’t continue this way and I needed to talk to someone. Although I had previously been to a counsellor a couple of years ago, it wasn’t very effective as I was unwilling and unable to open up to the counsellor and they regarded me as being quite “aggressive”.

I decided to call the doctor at the end of last year, and they referred me to the Croydon Psychological and Wellbeing Services IAPT, where I have been on a waiting list to receive Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). This was a big decision for me, as I hate to talk to anyone about what’s going on with me, but I got to a point where I missed the spark that used to exist in my life.

Depression and anxiety order can also affect you physically as well as mentally. I’m constantly tired, during the night I wake up every few of hours, I often feel weak, some days I can literally feel the weight of the world on my shoulders, and often times even taking the deepest breath does not make me feel even the slightest bit relieved; these are a few amongst other symptoms.

Not to mention the lack of motivation to do anything – even the smallest task of cooking, struggling to get up each day, and the inability to stay focussed on one thing for more than five minutes without zoning out.

Anxiety disorder and depression affect every aspect of your life from relationships with family and friends, to working with people, to carrying out tasks. It can leave you feeling isolated, alone, and misunderstood because initially you feel that no one understands what you’re going through and you feel embarrassed and stupid telling people what’s going on with you, especially when it’s hardly a fatal situation that you’re going through.

It’s even harder when you don’t understand what’s going on with yourself. You often feel ashamed for feeling so weak and helpless in regards to controlling your emotional and mental well-being. Although everyone deals with their depression differently, this is definitely something that I experience.

Image by geralt and used under Creative Commons License.
Image by geralt and used under Creative Commons License.

A lot of people I know who find out that I suffer from depression and an anxiety disorder are normally surprised. I’ve heard “you don’t suit the depression type”, “you’re so bubbly though” to, “but I thought you were so confident”.

But who exactly is the “depression type”? I refuse to become the “depression stereotype” – someone who stays in their pyjamas all day in the house, who sits in the dark not doing anything, walks around alone in a daze looking teary eyed. However, I do not judge anyone who does decide to deal with their depression in this way.

I won’t deny that I’ve had dark days when I’ll cry on and off, when I just want to sit on my sofa and watch TV, listen to music in bed, felt suicidal etc, but I also love to laugh, support my friends and see them happy, hang around family from time to time etc.

Basically I do enjoy a distraction. I just don’t deem it necessary to showcase my mental disorders and thrust my mood on those around me. However, having these disorders has inadvertently affected the way I behave with those closest to me, although I do try my hardest to stop when I realise that I’m letting this illness get a hold of me. I especially do not want or need attention from people, and having them pitying or feeling sorry for me.

Depression and anxiety disorder do not define me, but it’s something that I deal with daily. I do admit it’s changed me, but in life what doesn’t?

To all of those who suffer from any mental disorder, do not be afraid or ashamed to speak out. Don’t suffer in silence. This isn’t a life choice, it’s an illness. Acknowledging that is your first step to recovery. Don’t be afraid of your battle. Feeling this way does not make you weak or below anyone else. Opening up and letting someone in is all the strength that you need.

Rhianna is a 19-year-old from Croydon, who is working towards becoming a therapist in the mental health field.

Being unemployed makes young people feel useless

Annoyed.  Frustrated.  Tired.  Stressed.  Confused.  Depressed.  And most of all, useless.  These are terms some young people have used to describe their feelings of being unemployed.  One young person added, “There isn’t much you can do without a constant income”, while another went further to say, “It felt like I couldn’t do anything”.

In this struggling economic climate, when the population is living longer and technology is overtaking some job roles, it is becoming increasingly difficult for young people to land a job.  And once they do land a job, they then face the issue of actually keeping it or trying to progress up the career ladder.

According to parliament.uk’s youth unemployment statistics, 16.9% of 16-24 year olds were unemployed in September to November 2014.  Although the figure decreased by 3.2 percentage points from the previous year, it did increase by 0.9 percentage points from the previous quarter.  However, these statistics probably do not tell the full story, as some young people are likely to have fallen through the cracks of the system.

I am one of those statistics, signing on every other Monday, just so that I can receive a little income to contribute to my family home.  Signing on was never part of my initial life plan (I should have graduated and be working with a fashion company right now) and I hate doing it, but I cannot seem to find a job, despite my education or experience.  This is often the case for numerous other young people.

Photo by Cmglee and used under Creative Commons License.
Photo by Cmglee and used under Creative Commons License.

My 19-year-old sister is currently unemployed.  She previously held a temporary retail position at House of Fraser, which she struggled to get even with a retail qualification.  What is worse is that she is now struggling to find another retail job, despite having experience under her belt to go alongside her qualification.  “You want to find a job and you have the experience, but it’s never enough experience or the right experience,” she said.

However, one of the biggest obstacles facing young jobseekers is trying to get paid work.  Don’t get me wrong, volunteering is great and work experience is an invaluable, necessary stepping stone for many job roles.  Yet too many individuals want something for nothing, or they would gladly pay you a pittance.

There are now regular debates and reports on the issue of unpaid internships and why they should be stopped.  I even had a company who was offering me an unpaid internship ask if I would be able to arrange for the job centre to pay my travel expenses, which was what they were supposed to be offering.

Although internships serve as a stepping stone into a particular industry, don’t young people deserve to earn just a little something?  My sister said, “I don’t see why we should have to work for free.  It’s not fair… A job is never guaranteed.”

In their desperation to find a job, young people find themselves being forced into roles that they hate or may make them unhappy.  It is as if they are brainwashed into believing that their lives amount to finding a job, which seems to be a central ethos for the Job Centre.  Charlene*, 22, said: “Being on JSA [Job Seekers Allowance] is incredibly stressful and soon it’s like you spend more time trying to please the job centre than actually finding a job.”

Although employment is important, should it come at the cost of the happiness and/or emotional well-being of young people, who are already faced with a number of other issues.

Photo by PDPics and used under Creative Commons License.
Photo by PDPics and used under Creative Commons License.

Being unemployed – particularly for a long period of time – can be one of the toughest and most demeaning things, especially when prices are constantly rising and we are taught that getting a job is the main goal in life.

More needs to be done to get young people into sufficient employment and greater support (particularly emotional support) is essential.  The government talks about it, but they don’t seem to be doing enough and the job centre is not always effective.

“I think signing on makes it worse, because you’re reminded all the time that you don’t have a job and no matter how hard you look, you’re constantly told it’s not enough” says Charlene.

Thousands of young people are striving to find employment, after countless job applications and/or numerous years of studying, but they continue to find themselves in the same position.  It gradually chips away at their confidence and self-esteem, as they start to lose the passion they once had.

Seeking employment eventually becomes a game of, ‘Who will give me a chance’ or ‘Who will be willing to see my potential’, leaving young people feeling annoyed, frustrated, tired, confused, depressed and useless.  It needs to come to an end.P1120595

*Name has been changed

Contains Parliamentary information licensed under the Open Parliament Licence v3.0.

Why leaving university was the best decision I ever made

I have recently read a number of stories about individuals dropping out of university, and I have also spent a decent amount of time telling others why I made the decision to drop out.  However, my explanation has been quite minimal.  Today, I feel inspired to tell the full story of why I left university, and why it was the best decision I ever made.

While I was at university, I came to the sudden realisation that the career I had spent so long striving for was no longer my dream.  It was a terrifying feeling that seemed to smack me in the face and lead to a whirlwind of questions.  Should I call it a day?  Should I persevere to the end?  Should I give up on my dream?

I wasn’t like a lot of young people who struggle to figure out what they want to do in life, as Jane Austen Wedding DressI had envisioned becoming a fashion designer from the age of ten. I loved art and drawing clothes, and I intended to become the founder, manager and Dress Design 4designer of an organisation that created clothes for curvier figures.

I set out a step-by-step plan to reach my goal, and nothing or no one was going to deter me. Study Art & Design, Textiles and Business Studies at GCSE. Check. Study Textiles and Business Studies at A-Level. Check.  Then before I reached the world of work, there was just one more thing to tick off my checklist. University.

As soon as I knew that I wanted to become a fashion designer, I set my sights on going to the London College of Fashion (LCF). This was my dream university and I was determined that I would be there in September 2010, starting my degree.  Completing a Foundation Year was not a part of my plan, which saw me draining myself to create a stand-out portfolio and build on my fashion knowledge to ensure my place on my chosen course.

My hard work did pay off and by the time my A-level results were released, I was enrolled on the BA (Hons) Fashion Design and Development course. I was excited about taking on an amazing course that combined business intelligence with the creative side of fashion. And to top it all off, it was rounded out perfectly with a placement year in the middle.

However, as I worked through my first term, I sensed that something was wrong. I tried and tried to like my course, but for some reason I couldn’t.  No matter how long I stayed, I did not feel comfortable at my beloved LCF.  Despite all these warning signs going off in my head, I made the decision to stay put and persevere.  This had been my dream for so long and I was not giving up now.

Final prototype for Sensual Poison
Final prototype for Sensual Poison
Collage for my final uni project, Sensual Poison
Collage for my final university project, Sensual Poison

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

University got harder and harder, and no matter how hard I was trying, it seemed that I was not progressing.  In fact, my marks seemed to be getting worse and I hated that, because I have high expectations of myself.  I also found myself feeling emotionally and physically drained, as I gave up all of myself to my degree.  There were times when I even found myself dreaming about my projects, which was a little unsettling.

When it was finally time for me to find a work placement, I struggled and ultimately ended P1110023 No 2up without one. This cut me deep, resulting in my feeling rejected, angry and not good enough.  It was the wakeup call I so desperately needed to reconsider what it was that I wanted in life.

Instead of taking a placement year, I took a gap year to re-evaluate where my life was heading before returning to final year. However, as I delved deeper into self-meditation, I realised that I no longer wanted to work in fashion, although I did want to complete my final year so that I would at least have a degree.

As I began making the necessary preparations to return to LCF, feelings of distress and P1110024 No 2unhappiness began to burn up inside me. I finally took the time to really see how sad and depressed my degree had made me over the two years.  I knew that my final year would destroy me, so I refused to go back.

Although I still had a strong love and interest in fashion, I could see that my heart was not in it and that a part of me that was not pursuing fashion for the right reasons.  Some individuals think I’m crazy for not finishing my degree, but I knew that I had to go back to basics and discover my true calling.  However, it wasn’t too hard, because writing has always been my real passion.

Changing my career path threw me off-balance and brought numerous fears to the surface, but that’s okay, because writing is what I truly love.  Just like one of my tutors from LCF said, it’s a good thing I discovered this now rather than 10 or 20 years down the line.

Staying at university would have been extremely damaging to my emotional and mental health, especially when I felt that I was not getting the type of support I needed.  Leaving LCF was one of the bravest things I’ve ever done and it has helped me to become happier than I’ve been in a long time.

I have also been able to properly kickstart my writing career by gaining experience and working on my own projects, which is what’s important.  Although I have no clue about what the future holds for me, I do intend to be successful and prove all those who thought I was crazy completely wrong.  Dropping out of university is seriously the best decision I have ever made.

An article I wrote for Croydon Guardian
One of my articles for Croydon Guardian

Are young people worse off today than previous generations?

As I spent time speaking about the sick condition of this world with my granddad and how the young people of the world were caught up in it, I started to think about whether the youth of today are worse off than previous generations.

The response to this would never be straightforward, because of the significant changes that have taken place from generation to generation.  In many ways, young people are not worse off today than previous generations, yet in many ways, they are.

With the constant increase in knowledge over time, there have been numerous developments in travel, methods of communication and other areas of our everyday lives.  In fact, many of these changes and developments have taken place, because of the revolutionary thing called technology.

The use of technology allows us to complete a number of tasks using faster, simpler and more efficient methods.  It is now easier for us to communicate with other individuals from around the globe  than ever before, leading to an increase in opportunities.  The Internet gives us easy access to an ocean of information and there is entertainment in abundance with access to televisions, computers, games consoles and mobile phones.

Image by blickpixel and used under Creative Commons License.
Image by blickpixel and used under Creative Commons License.

In many ways, technology means that we have a lot more variety than the young people of previous generations, as there is so much at our fingertips.  You could say that we’ve been privileged and spoilt for choice.  However, this also comes with a price.

Technology can be a blessing, but it can also be a curse.  It comes with a whole set of new problems that generations before us did not have to contend with.  There are the issues of sexting, hacking and cyber bullying, amongst others.

The ease of cyber communication has also messed up the ability for many young people to physically communicate with others, whilst the obsession with gadgets has dampened the imagination of some young individuals.  Instead of creating new games or creating scenarios with their dolls, they would rather play around with an iPad or XBox.

The divide in class – which is continuing to widen due to the economy and actions of the Conservative government – has had a very negative effect on the young people of this generation.  It has led to an increase in disruptive youth who are trying to gain the same sort of status or earnings as the class above them.  This also leads to lawlessness, knife crime and gun crime.

This is also a generation of young people who have grown up amongst the constant reports of gang culture and the issues that come with that, particularly violent crime and involvement with drugs.  They will be drawn into this, as they mimic the actions of others before them and try to gain their social standings.

Photo by cheifyc and used under Creative Commons License.
Photo by cheifyc and used under Creative Commons License.

It does not help that there is a blatant lack of disrespect for life and authority.  This effects all young people, whether they are embroiled in “gang culture” or not, because a life could be taken for the silliest little thing.  Respect is something that has become extremely distorted in our society, specifically among the young generation.

The issues regarding economy and finance are also major factors in making young people worse off today than previous generations.  Those going to university now have to pay a large fee and leave in a pile of debt, unlike previous generations who were able to attend university for free.  And to make matters worse, there is a constant push for young people to attend university, which will lead to debt, without there even being a promise of a job afterwards.

Graduates struggle to find work like the many other unemployed young individuals and when they do eventually find work, many of them are forced to work in menial jobs with low pay and the unlikelihood of promotion.  In fact, an older individual I was speaking to told me that it is a lot harder for young people to find work now than when they were younger.

The struggle to find well paid work combined with the soaring house prices also means that this young generation will struggle to purchase a property in the future, which I think is unfair and unacceptable.

All of these issues do not help with the issue of increased pressure in our society, as we live in a time that is extremely competitive.  This pressure, mixed in with the points I raised earlier, has led to an increase in mental health problems among young people, including stress, self-harm and suicide.  It is also not helped with the constant images being pushed down our throats by the media, which affects the self-esteem of so many young individuals and leads to a number of body issues.

Image by johnhain and used under Creative Commons License.
Image by johnhain and used under Creative Commons License.

There are many different obstacles facing young people, and it would seem that they are worse off than previous generations, despite the increases in technology and all that comes with it.

Young people are facing issues left, right and centre in a sick world that shows no signs of getting better.  They are fighting to get ahead, which does not always lead to positive results.  Their parents are striving to give them the best possible life, which leads to an increase in working hours and a decrease in family time, which also has an adverse effect on young people.

However, we need to find a way to make the best out of a bad situation and rectify some of these problems.  It is just about finding the most effective ways to do this.  How do you think we can make the young generation better off?