Wednesday October 10th is World Mental Health Day.
The theme for this year is ‘Young People and Mental Health In A Changing World’.
What we regard as poor mental health in an individual is often their expression of the emotional impact of struggling to thrive in the face of difficult circumstances.
Yesterday I attended a regional UKASFP meeting in Bristol.
It took place in a wonderfully inspiring community centre in an area known for high crime rates. I often find the greatest good is being done in places like this. They sit on the front line in the battle between love and hate. Often underfunded and struggling but doing the best they can with what they have. This enables them to occasionally do one small thing that might make a difference, leading towards their hopes for the community to experience greater peace and harmony. On this occasion, they provided an affordable venue for us to meet.
One attendee who had visited the community centre before, remarked that it is showing the signs of being less well maintained, probably a consequence of diminishing financial investment. This clearly hasn’t deterred the staff we encountered, who couldn’t have been more welcoming and warm hearted.
We all agreed that this meeting had made a difference to us, which will ultimately benefit our clients, some of whom will be residents of the area in which we met.
Even if we can’t do anything directly about crime rates, underfunding and other difficulties faced by our clients, we can discuss with them what small things they might be able to do that might make a difference, doing the best they can with what they have.
My employer, The University of Surrey, recently took part in a project, alongside other local organisations, partnering with an underperforming school in a relatively deprived area. Through a focus on the hopes and aspirations of students at the school and their parents, and a recognition of existing resources enhanced by the partnership, the school received a ‘Good’ offsted rating. This is part of an ongoing programme called “Finding Our Futures”. You can read more about this here
In Surrey and across the UK, youth workers are also doing all they can to make a difference.
The Key Purpose of youth work, according to Youth Work National Occupational Standards (2012) is to…
‘Enable young people to develop holistically, working with them to facilitate their personal, social and educational development, to enable them to develop their voice, influence and place in society and to reach their full potential’
Even for youth workers faced with the prospect of funding cuts threatening the continued existence of their services, the possible lasting impact of what they can do in the meantime is not lost on them, so they’re doing all they can with what they have. I know this for a fact because I’m lucky enough to be married to one of them!
If we all maintain this approach, I’m confident that a consequence of our successes will be a noticeable improvement in what we regard as the mental health of young people (including future university students).
The efforts of UKASFP members, and other people working in the same facilitative way, ensure that the same applies for people of all ages everywhere. It’s entirely possible that through finding ways to thrive despite difficult circumstances, the residents of even the most deprived areas might find more ways to lift themselves and their communities towards a better future, by doing whatever they can to make a difference.
I think it’s also likely that by achieving success in this particular way, there is likely to be a lasting impact on the ‘mental resilience’ of all involved, because they will have the advantage of being able to draw on the experience of using a simple (even if sometimes difficult) process of identifying hopes and aspirations, then the resources that can be used to attain them.
By being clear about what we hope for and what we have, we can all make a difference in a changing world, which we pass on to our young people, to do the same.