'Feel inspired to join the fight' for better mental health

Group of four young people in park talking

By sharing her own experiences of depression and loneliness, Kent Youth County Council's (KYCC) Shreya Nivarty is working to inspire others to join her fight for better mental health for young people.

Along the way, an account of the pandemic's impact on Shreya's wellbeing and others, and her subsequent experience with KYCC's Mental Health Campaign Group, has earned the Tonbridge Grammar School student recognition.

Recently named Mental Health Journalist of the Year in the online newspaper for young people The Day’s Global Young Journalist Awards, it's a development Shreya hopes will further strengthen her voice.

“Winning this award has been such an incredible experience; journalism has always been a huge passion of mine and I admire how powerful it can be," the youth County Council Community Member said.

"The work we have done at KYCC is so inspiring, and I hope somebody, somewhere is able to read my article and feel inspired to join the fight. I am so proud and could not be more excited about this award!”

Judges for the awards included Dr Stuart Lawrence,  youth engagement specialist and brother of Stephen Lawrence, the London teenager murdered in a racially motivated attack in 1993.

Kent County Council member Sue Chandler

It is vital Kent’s young residents know where they can turn to when things feel tough and KYCC are to be commended for the terrific work they are doing in this important area

Sue Chandler KCC Cabinet Member for Integrated Children's Services

Sue Chandler, KCC Cabinet Member for Integrated Children's Services, said: “We are very proud of Shreya’s achievement and hope her efforts to raise awareness of mental health issues inspires others to open up about difficult emotions and reach out for support.

“Young people’s lives were significantly disrupted through the pandemic and our ‘always on’ digitally connected world adds to the pressures today’s younger generations face.

Shreya Nivarty

Shreya Nivarty: "Mental health is a dark subject – but I want my article to highlight the positivity that comes out of the young people it affects"

“It is vital Kent’s young residents know where they can turn to when things feel tough and KYCC are to be commended for the terrific work they are doing in this important area."

Thanks to Shreya and The Day for giving KCC permission to re-print the piece, you can read Shreya's award-winning article in full below.

And if you are motivated to make a difference to young people's lives,  this year's KYCC Elections will be taking place in November and young people, aged 11 to 18,  can sign up here now to get involved

Read more about KYCC's Mental Health Campaign Group here

Youth Response to the Mental Health Crisis

Mental Health Journalist of the Year: Winner - The Day

by Shreya Nivarty, Tonbridge Grammar School

As I walk into the Swale Room, nestled on the ground floor of County Hall, Maidstone, I am met with a bustle of young people, scoffing Jaffa Cakes, and youth workers distributing pens and firing up laptops. Differing in ages, stories, and backgrounds, but with one common goal: to improve mental health for all young people. This is the Mental Health Campaign Group in the Kent Youth County Council.

The campaign group has enjoyed many successes recently – most prominently the launch of our Mental Health Friends Handbook. This is a handy little purple book that has been ordered in the tens of thousands across Kent, England, designed by a handful of Youth Councillors, including myself, over months of meetings, held in our beloved Swale Room. Serving as Vice Chair for this project, I saw firsthand the drive of these young people. So many of us had been through mental health problems that tried to break us down repeatedly – and here we were, with one simple response to it: fight back. The pandemic was a shocking insight into the failures of mental health services, and isolation from peers and increased anxiety has caused 80% of respondents from a YoungMinds survey to state that the pandemic worsened their mental health. Putting the clench in our fists and the grit into our teeth, we put our heads down to change this.

I’m certainly no stranger to the effects of the pandemic on mental health. Throughout lockdown, I crumbled under depression. A previously social “gifted kid”, who had dreams of becoming a politician, the loneliness took over. But through hours of therapy and honest conversations with myself, coinciding perfectly with the lifting of lockdown,I pulled myself back up, dusted my knees and kept running. However, I noticed the pandemic had left its mark on many other young people. I knew firsthand the mental health services in the UK could not cope with the aftermath. Something needed to change. So I decided to step into a world I had only dreamed of entering previously – the political sphere.

I stood for KYCC in 2021 on a manifesto promising to work on mental health. At the first meeting, I made a beeline for the MH Campaign Group, diligently taking minutes. Having also been elected as Member of UK Youth Parliament, I vowed to use my 2-year term to make tangible change. Currently, the group has made solid plans to release a podcast for parents, and I’m proud to be serving as Chair. Kay (Vice Chair) summarises it perfectly: “I feel like we have really great ideas and can bounce off each other to create solid plans,” she enthused, continuing, “I cannot wait to see what we can accomplish together!”

All of this is to say, to quote Juice Wrld (a big mental health advocate), if I can, then you can too. There are so many things you can do to make a difference. Every part of the UK has a MYP – find out how you can stand. Lobby, write to your local decision-maker, even just send a tweet! Mental health is a dark subject – but I want my article to highlight the positivity that comes out of the young people it affects. Let’s stand up against poor mental health.