What are your thoughts on mental health?

Taking inspiration from Mental Health Awareness Week, mental health was the theme of this month’s forum.  On May 16th, we were joined by Geoff and Joan from Off The Record, a charity “founded in 1994 to provide free, independent and professional counselling for 14 – 25 year olds in the Croydon area,” who provided another level to our conversation.

To start the conversation, I thought it was important to ask what everyone’s understanding of mental health was.  Responses included:

  • “I think it may be along the lines of mental capabilities… It is knowing the mental capacity of an individual – something may trigger someone more than others.” – Sharna
  • “Up until recently, I didn’t realise anxiety and depression was a symptom of mental health.  I only thought mental health was schizophrenia or a mental breakdown.” – Alana
  • “I understand mental health as the health of our minds… All of us have a mental health.  There is no such thing as people with or without it.” – Geoff
  • “It’s not taken as seriously as physical illnesses… It’s not recognised unless people go through it.” – Shannette

Sharna then brought up the well-being factor in the workplace and getting mental health issues out there, particularly in schools.  Geoff responded by saying that if we had less shame, then we would be more willing to talk about it.  He also made the very interesting point of: “The strategies work for a while, but in the end they become a problem themselves.”

The next question I asked was, why does there seem to be a stigma around mental health, especially in the BME community?  Alana thinks that it’s a lot to do with pride and social status, while Sharna thinks that there’s a big lack of understanding.  Sharna also said, “With people of colour, there is a harsh reality that it can be fixed.”

Shannette thinks that sometimes it’s a parent coming to terms with what their child has, while Nyisha believes that black families sometimes have difficulty in taking responsibility for playing a part in their children’s mental health problems.  “I think what your parents has gone through effects you, and effects their children,” said Nyisha.

We also touched on the topic of males and mental health, which I think could be a topic for discussion all in itself.  Sharna began by saying, “It’s like boys aren’t able to have emotions.”  Shannette followed up by expressing that she thinks things are changing now, especially with social media, and that boys are a little more open and able to share their emotions.

Hakeem said that guys tend to bottle things up more often, and Geoff revealed to us that with a break up, there is an incredible difference in the way that is handled by each gender.  He told us that girls find various ways to deal with it, while boys tend to go to the extreme and at times consider suicide.

Alana and Rhianna were both brave enough to share their experiences with mental health problems with us.  Alana revealed that it was triggered by something that happened in her past, while Rhianna went into depth on what triggers her depression and anxiety disorder, and how she has coped with them.

I then handed it over to Geoff, who expressed the importance of getting interested in our critical voice.  He believes that these voices often come from our experiences and it’s about understanding that voice, and not taking it at face value.

Rhianna followed this up by saying that a lot of our thoughts are fears that come from nowhere – “Sometimes you need to question it and not just listen to it.  Sometimes you just need encouragement.”

Nyisha thinks that a lot of things to do with mental health is meeting someone in their reality, which was slightly echoed by Rhianna who thinks that people need to take more time to understand people and who they are – “I think that a lot of people can only understand to their level of understanding.”

Shannette also believes that in a lot of instances, people are in competition with how serious their problems are, which can sometimes be the block in people getting help.

Rhianna expressed the importance of having a way to deal with things and express yourself – “You have to face something in order to overcome it.”  She also added that “with depression, a good thing is to just let it out.”

Geoff also believes that with some people, a diagnosis is really useful and medication could be really helpful, but sometimes a diagnosis is not helpful, as people can be misdiagnosed.  He added that a medical models is not always the best solution, and sometimes the humanist model can be a better way to look at it.

My final question was, how can we break the stigma around mental health?  Responses included:

  • “By doing things like this.” – Geoff
  • “Getting more understanding.” – Valerie
  • “If there is something you’re going through, own what you have and educate people on what you have.” – Shannette
  • Spreading awareness – Alana
  • Encouraging people and sharing your story.  “Also finding the right groups of people – we all need someone.” – Rhianna
  • I think society needs to question the senior members in the medical profession.  It would help to have more people in the same community, as they have that cultural understanding. – Nyisha

There were so many more amazing gems and points raised in the conversation, but unfortunately I cannot include them all, so I want to leave you with a few to reflect on:

  • “No one can be your hype man as much as you.” – Shannette
  • “Establish that what you’re going through is your own and you can’t make comparisons.” – Rhianna
  • “I think everyone has a hint of madness in them and it’s about embracing that.” – Shannette
  • “You can be saving someone by just sharing your experience.” – Alana
  • “When we’re struggling, that is often when the light comes in.” – Geoff

Life Goals will be the theme of our forum on June 20th and it is going to be a special one, as we’ll be joined by some inspiring young people who will be sharing their stories.  Hopefully it will inspire you to think about your life goals and what steps you want to take moving forward.

Stay updated with Young People Insight by following @YPInsight on Twitter, following @youngpeopleinsight on Instagram, liking Young People Insight on Facebook and subscribing to the Young People Insight YouTube channel.

Info for May’s YP Insight Forum & Poetic Insight

We’re only eight days away from the end of our crowdfunding campaign and also into the second day of Mental Health Awareness Week, which I think we can all agree is incredibly important.  Mental health needs to be acknowledged and conversations definitely need to be had to create a better understanding in the midst of a mental health crisis.

This is why we are focusing on mental health this month at YPI, starting with our forum on May 16th.  Mental health was actually the topic of choice for Rhianna, so I’m hoping that she will help me in leading out next week.

We’ll be asking about the understanding of mental health, why there seems to be a stigma around it and how we can break the stigma.  There will also be some representatives who work in the young health and mental health sector present, which will add an element of expertise to the conversation.

So this is a call to all young people to come along next Tuesday and join the conversation on an important topic, while munching on some snacks in a relaxed environment.  We’ll be at Project B from 6.30-8.30pm, so just let us know you’re coming by registering here: http://bit.ly/2pT3hqh

Mental health will also be the theme for this month’s Poetic Insight, which will be taking place on May 30th.  There are slots open to perform, so if you are a young poet or spoken word artist wanting to speak your mind on mental health, email shaniquab29@yahoo.co.uk or message me on 07910092565.

I think this is going to be a night of incredible, moving, powerful poetry, which none of you will want to miss.  Save the date and come down to Project B, where doors will open at 7pm with performances starting at about 7.20pm and the event concluding at about 9pm.  Register to get your free tickets now: http://bit.ly/2pT3hqh

Don’t forget to support our crowdfunding campaign in the final eight days so that YPI can continue to put on events like this and create necessary dialogue.  You can share our campaign page and make a pledge here: http://bit.ly/empower-youth-voice

Stay updated with Young People Insight by following @YPInsight on Twitter, following @youngpeopleinsight on Instagram, liking Young People Insight on Facebook and subscribing to the Young People Insight YouTube channel.

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.