“Lockdown was challenging for everyone, young people especially. They studied, played and typed their way through a year-and-a-half of social isolation,” reflects Michael Richardson, a member of Kent Youth County Council (KYCC). “And, when young people found the going got tough, the hurdles of finding support became yet another stress.”
So tackling those hurdles, making it easier for young people to find help in dealing with mental health issues, became a key focus for Michael and his colleagues in the KYCC Mental Health Campaign Group.
“I’ve been a member of the group for four years now and been its chair for two of them,” says 15-year-old from Dover. “The group addresses issues young people care most about and in recent years that has been mental health. We wondered: ‘even if my friend opened up to me, how can I help?’”
So teaming up with others in Kent Youth Voice – a collective of young people working together on campaigns to improve young lives across the county – the group set to work on producing a Mental Health Friends Handbook.
“We hope the handbook will not just start conversations but also increase confidence tackling these issues head on. We want to increase awareness and decrease stigma.”
Michael explains: “The handbook takes you through how to support yourself while helping a friend. It also details signs that could indicate someone you know might need some help, how to talk to someone that has opened up to you – and what to do if things get more serious. We hope the handbook will not just start conversations but also increase confidence tackling these issues head on. We want to increase awareness and decrease stigma.”
“We were inspired to create the handbook because there is lots of training for over-16s but nothing for under-16s. We wanted to do something for 13-16-year-olds”
Justice Manyewe, vice chair of the group, aged 13 from Maidstone, continues the story: “Our Mental Health Campaign Group is really enthusiastic and had loads of good ideas,” he says. “We were inspired to create the handbook because there is lots of training for over-16s but nothing for under-16s. We wanted to do something for 13-16 year olds.”
Hear directly from the group who put the handbook together
As well as producing the handbook, which includes advice on being open and honest with people you trust, Kent Youth Voice’s Building Resilience Group has created a board game to help young people make meaningful connections.
Supported by HeadStart Kent, the Building Resilience Board Game has been some three years in the making and testing with youth groups – a lot of it virtual, during lockdowns.
Exploring key areas such as health, friendships and interests, the game provides tips and advice to improve emotional strength. And it’s a great activity for engaging and helping young people to connect with others – the theme of this year’s recent Children’s Mental Health Week
Watch an introductory video about the game
Schools and community groups can order copies of the free Mental Health Friend Handbook, and the board game, from Kent Youth Voice. 43,267 copies of the booklet have already been requested!
According to a recently-published government report, the percentage of children and young people reporting low happiness with their health is increasing. The State of the nation 2022: children and young people’s wellbeing dossier also shows a range of other issues linked to poor mental health, such as trouble sleeping, are on the up.
And young people are clear – having connections is key to thriving.
“If you have someone who understands you, it is a lot easier to empty your mind of stress and problems”, said one response to Kent Youth Voice. Another shared: “Having friends is important because you will have someone who will be there when you’re happy… and sad.”
Where to get help
Meanwhile, KCC along with district councils, community groups and the NHS, are continuing to raise awareness of all the places young people in Kent and Medway can get support, including MoodSpark.
Other services for young people to turn to for mental health support include:
- Kooth – if you are aged between 10 to 25-years-old and live in Kent and Medway, Kooth offers an online mental health community giving free, safe and confidential advice. You can chat with a team member about anything that is on your mind.
- Release the Pressure – Text ‘Kent’ or ‘Medway’ to 85258 for urgent support when life gets really tough. No fee, no registration or data required - it is free, confidential and anonymous. A highly trained and experienced team is available 24/7 to provide expert support no matter what you are going through, and
- The BeYou Project – provides peer and individual support for LGBT+ young people aged eight to 25 in Kent and Medway.
For a one-stop-shop of advice about mental health for young people in Kent and Medway visit the Kent and Medway Mental Wellbeing Information Hub
For those supporting young people, including parents, teachers and carers, the Kent Resilience Hub offers a wide range of information, guidance, and training opportunities.
To help schools and colleges provide the best support to young people at the right time for them, they can view webinars at Wellbeing for Education Return (theeducationpeople.org).
And, to find out about the work of the emotional wellbeing teams who are specially trained to help children at school with their emotional wellbeing and mental health, visit the NELFT NHS Foundation Trust