After battling mental health issues for over 20 years, I know all too well the challenges children and young people face when it comes to their mental health. Having developed severe mental health issues as a child which has led to a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, and after many years fighting the system for support and not having my voice heard, I’ve spent the past 10 years coordinating the Our Place Mentoring Scheme which provides children and young people within the Sutton Coldfield area of Birmingham support with their emotional, mental and social well-being.
When I was younger, I never had someone who listened and supported me through my issues. When I did speak out about how I was feeling inside, it fell on deaf ears, or I was told I was overreacting. It was my own experiences that motivated me to become involved with the Our Place Mentoring Scheme because every child and young person has the right to be listened to and supported if they’re struggling with their mental health and wellbeing.
Next week is Children’s Mental Health Week (7th-13th Feb 2022). The theme is ‘Growing Together’. This is especially relevant to Our Place Mentoring Scheme which focuses on nurturing relationships to help support children and young people with any issues that they may face.
However, since the Our Place Mentoring Scheme was established 11 years ago we’ve seen a worrying shift in the types of referrals to the programme. Initially the mentoring was very much about prevention. We would support children with issues such as friendships, self-esteem, anger and family breakdown. Over the past few years, we have seen a significant shift in children and young people coming to us with problems with their mental health. A large number of children and young people we support need help with anxiety related symptoms – these are children as young as six years old. We have also had a significant increase in children and young people who are self-harming; and children as young as nine years old coming to us who are experiencing suicidal thoughts.
And this was pre-COVID.
We are now also seeing the huge detrimental impact the pandemic has had on child and youth mental well-being. It’s heart-breaking to see so many children and young people struggling as a result of all the disruption to their lives.
Nationwide, long waiting times, issues with assessments and lack of resources and funding are affecting support services. We need to listen to children and young people and their experiences of mental health, and how these experiences must help shape service design; policy making and inform research.
The Our Place Mentoring Scheme Youth Forum is a platform for children and young people who have previously accessed the mentoring scheme. I’m so proud that they are influencing our work and sharing their experiences.
Here’s what they say about why their voices matter for their mental health:
“My voice needs to be heard to feel safe.”
“We need to have a say in our lives.”
“I deserve to be heard so everything is not inside myself.”
“My voice needs to be heard to help support change.”
“My voice needs to be heard because we are smarter than you think.”
Our Children need our help now. We cannot fail them.
About the Author: Beth Thomas is the mentoring scheme co-ordinator and Safeguarding Director at Our Place Support in the West Midlands. She is currently studying an MSC in child and adolescent mental wellbeing. She is part of the sounddelivery spokesperson network. Follow her on Twitter @Beffy86 @ourplacesupport
Beth is available for media interviews on this subject