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#MHAW| Young people are more than their mental health difficulties

Charis Robertson of Hot Chocolate Trust, an Inspiring Scotland 14:19 Fund portfolio charity is celebrating Mental Health Awareness Week by asking the Hot Chocolate Trust young people what their hopes for the future of mental health support across Scotland.

I am no expert on how mental health issues affect young people.

However, having worked with hundreds of young people over the years who struggle with their mental health, I have certainly learnt a lot from them about their experiences and recovery and I know mental health affects every young person differently. 

That’s why I have co-written this article with them.

My co-authors are some of the young people I work with at Hot Chocolate Trust, a grassroots youth work organisation in Dundee, and they are the experts of their own experiences. If we are serious about creating a society which supports young people to flourish and thrive - physically, socially, emotionally, mentally - we’d be wise to listen to what they say.

Over 60% of the young people involved with Hot Chocolate experience mental health difficulties, so I invited them to share something around how mental health has affected them and our community.

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“Mental health affects my life almost 24/7, everywhere I go. School and home are the big ones for me where I trigger every day. I can range from anger to emotional breakdowns to the fight/flight/freeze response. It’s extremely hard to live with, and it’s very hard for me to find people who understand.” - Annie, 16

“I suffer with depression, ADHD, anxiety and paranoia. I struggle day-to-day with these disorders - it’s sometimes like I’m at war with myself. It seems like the hardest thing in the world is to put on a smile when all I want to do is hide under my duvet and stay there for a week.” - Carrie, 17

“I was homeless when I was 17 and I had to fend for myself for 2 years. It’s really hard to deal with that as a teenager - you don’t feel there’s a lot you can do about it. I had pretty bad depression and anxiety and I thought about suicide quite a lot of times. You really need someone to sit down and speak to, and thankfully I found that at Hot Chocolate.” Paul, 22

“The vibe at Hot Chocolate is informal and free. I never feel forced to open up, and that makes me want to open up. It really helps that I can talk about my problems.” - Steve, 16

“I knew I needed someone to speak to, so I spoke to the team at Hot Chocolate. They encouraged me to speak to my doctor. They helped me express my feelings. They didn’t judge. They helped me make positive plans for my future. They gave me opportunities. They listened. They were there.” - Dan, 18

The young people of Hot Chocolate (like everybody else) are on a journey with their mental health and wellbeing: understanding themselves better; learning more about their own needs; cultivating healthy and positive practices; finding ways to express their emotions; establishing trusting relationships; growing in confidence to reach out and ask for help when they need it; processing past experiences; and developing courage, resilience and strategies to tackle they challenges they face.

Without these steps in the journey, it is very difficult for young people to be able to embrace the opportunities that may lay ahead of them– including those of employment, education and training.

So, in light of their experiences, I also asked my co-authors what their hopes are for the future of mental health support for young people across Scotland:

That young people are seen as whole people. They are more than their mental health difficulties, and also come with hopes, ambitions, skills and talents.

• That mental health professionals would take time to get to know them, build up trust with them, really listen to them, and learn what makes them tick.

• That mental health professionals don’t try to control or dictate what should happen, but work in partnership with them.

• That there would be more creative opportunities to help them express themselves, and to help themprocess their emotions and experiences.

These seem like wise and achievable hopes to me.

Charis Robertson (Assistant Director, Development) & young people of Hot Chocolate Trust.

Hot Chocolate Trust is a grassroots youth work organisation based in centre of Dundee. It is part of Inspiring Scotland’s 14:19 portfolio, supporting young people into employment, education and training.

www.hotchocolatetrust.org.uk

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