The Voices of Young People

March 30 2022

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Here at the Charlie Waller Trust, young people are at the heart of what we do. We've created a series of short videos interviewing students on their experiences of mental health.

Young people are at the centre of the Trust’s work. Here, our Youth Speaker and Participation Lead Alice Palmer talks about creating this video series and the importance of showcasing young people's voices.

On a sunny Saturday morning in Bristol I set out to talk to young members of the public about their mental health, and how they manage it. The idea came out of my new role for the Trust as Youth Speaker and Participation Lead. The role was established after conversations with CEO Clare Stafford about the importance of ensuring young people's voices and ideas are incorporated into the very heart of the charity's work.

I started as a Young Advisor and Speaker with the Trust almost ten years ago. That helped me realise how important a sense of agency was as part of my own journey as well as the empowerment it gave others around me. So now it’s incredibly exciting to play a lead role in ensuring as many young people as possible have a part to play in decisions and discussions – all too often these happen on their behalf, rather than with them.

And what better way to kick things off than heading to a city full of students and asking them what they really think? Working with filmmaker Kristian Garside and mental health campaigner Haleem Clift, both very talented men in their early twenties, I was hopeful we’d make an approachable team. Our aim was to come out with some useful content for helping people understand what young people are feeling at the start of a new academic year emerging from the pandemic.

Wearing a Charlie Waller t-shirt and armed with a microphone and camera, I worried young people might find the prospect of speaking to strangers about their mental health a little daunting, but within 20 minutes I proved myself very wrong. A young man bounced up to us to say, “I’ve heard of Charlie Waller – they’re great – what are you guys up to?”

After three hours we’d interviewed fifteen young people, asking questions ranging from “how do you know when you’re feeling low or anxious?” to “what can other people do to help if you’re feeling that way?” The honesty was overwhelming from everyone we spoke to, and the ability to articulate what they needed when they were struggling was humbling and important for others to hear.

Just having people reach out to me and just say ‘hey, how you doing?’ makes all the difference”, said one young woman. This point is one I consistently make when speaking in schools and workplaces – asking how someone is should never be underestimated: it can play an integral role in looking out for other people’s mental health, and it takes less than a minute. Sometimes we need to ask twice, even three times, but I honestly believe the question can save lives.

Along with talking and checking in with those close to us, coping strategies such as exercise, meditation, and time offline were all mentioned by those we spoke to.

When asking about things other people might do which young people find unhelpful in terms of their mental health, one interviewee said: “When you see everyone posting their perfect lives on social media, and then you compare it to yourself, it can be damaging and unhelpful, but you've got to just remember that it’s not the same as real life.” Another said: “It's [when people] jump to conclusions or speak down to me which I find difficult.”

Distancing ourselves from mobile phones and those who are quick to judge and make us feel we’re not good enough when experiencing anxiety and/or low mood are clear takeaways from these interviews.

The answers ran with consistent themes, highlighting that there are clear ways in which we can be looking after ourselves and others at a time where mental health referrals are at an all-time high. It was a privilege to speak to so many inspiring young people, and it highlighted to me that when in doubt about how best to help young people struggling with their mental health, it’s always best to ask young people themselves – they really are the experts.

You can watch the films we created here:

 

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