World Mental Health Day to focus on young people’s mental health This year’s World Mental Health Day, held on 10th October each year and organised by the World Health Organization (WHO), will focus on young people’s mental health. According to WHO, half of all mental illness begins by the age of 14, though most cases go undetected and untreated, and, shockingly, suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds. Prevention, the organisation says, begins with a better understanding of mental health issues: “Much can be done to help build mental resilience from an early age to help prevent mental distress and illness among adolescents and young adults, and to manage and recover from mental illness.” This awareness needs to be backed up by having the systems of support in place to help young people cope with everyday life: “Parents and teachers can help build life skills of children and adolescents to help them cope with everyday challenges at home and at school. Psychosocial support can be provided in schools and other community settings and training for health workers to enable them to detect and manage mental health disorders can be put in place, improved or expanded.” To mark World Mental Health Day we will publish two case studies from participants on the Wellbeing Programme whose childhood has impacted on where they are today. In the first one, Darren* tells us how traumatic events in his childhood contributed to his mental health decline in adult life, though now, through his involvement with the Wellbeing Programme, he is slowly recovering. Darren’s story highlights the importance of tackling mental health issues early on. A Journey of Wellbeing Darren’s story: discovering a sense of purpose and worth It’s well known that the first few years of a child’s life are crucial to their development and that the experiences and influences a child is exposed to during these early years can shape their emotional and mental wellbeing for years to come. Darren knows this all too well: “Most of my problems today stem from my childhood, from traumatic events I experienced when I was just four years old…” He does not go into detail, but says, “My father did not treat me the way a father should.” Darren’s father left home when he was five, but by then, the damage had already been done. “I was affected at such a young age that by the time I started primary school I was in my own shell. This and the fact that I was the tallest kid, made me an easy target for the bullies… I didn’t defend myself and the bullying continued into secondary school.” “There were days when I just broke down and didn’t want to go to school, but my mum insisted on me going. She was in a bad place herself, struggling with stress, and she found it difficult to help me.” “I don’t have any bad feelings now about what happened. What happened, happened, and there is no going back.” However, these experiences took a toll on Darren’s mental health. As a young adult, he recalls “I was always on edge and suffered really badly with anxiety, something that was manifesting itself on a daily basis. There was always a reason for being stressed. For a large part of my life, this was just the way it was; this was me. I avoided people and felt that I was OK as long as I was by myself, or with a close friend. I was not comfortable in public and there was a period of my life when I shut myself inside, literally, for 11 years…” “I received counselling to help me with managing my thoughts, rather than letting my thoughts control me. I found the sessions really helpful though it’s sometimes hard to remember everything I was taught.” It wasn’t long after the counselling sessions that Darren applied to join the Wellbeing Programme. The programme provides outdoor nature-based activities for people struggling with their mental health. “I love working with nature and the work we have done at Roundway Orchard in Devizes. It has also made me more confident in meeting new people.” A year after joining the programme, Darren became a Volunteer Support Assistant (VSA), to help the team deliver the wellbeing activities and to provide support to the other participants. “I love the changes we have made in the orchard, and I also love the changes I see in the participants, seeing them improve from their first day, sometimes hiding and not speaking to the others, to then coming out of their shell, just like I was at the beginning.” Darren is a valued member of the team and is humble about his abilities: “I might not be the best VSA, but I try my best.” As part of his new role he recently attended a cross-cutting course and says, “I sometimes don’t think I can do something, but I can. I felt really proud of myself when I was presented with the certificate for the course – it felt really good, and it felt good to tell my mum and my friends about it.” Darren is full of praise for the work the Wellbeing Programme does and recommends anyone struggling with their mental health to join: “Try and find a position on one of the groups; the work is brilliant and it benefits both wildlife and people, so it’s a win-win.” Eventually, Darren hopes to return to work – he has a conscientious, gentle and kind manner and is someone who really cares about doing a good job; there is no doubt he’d be an asset to any future employer, just like he’s an asset to the Wellbeing team. “The Wellbeing Programme is a fantastic opportunity for people to make their lives, and the environment, better,” he says before adding, “I feel like I’m achieving something on the programme – it has helped me gain a sense of purpose and worth in life.” *Name has been changed. Get in touch If you feel you would benefit from joining the programme, or know someone who might benefit, please get in touch with us. We run groups in Wiltshire and Swindon. Call the office on 01380 736 098 or email us for more information.