A new charity for young people’s mental health

Just ahead of the anniversary of my daughter’s death, we have held the first meeting of a new charity aiming to support young people’s mental health.

Eve Whitman

 

Yesterday was the first meeting of a charity I’ve set up for my daughter. It’s been a while in the making because setting up a charity is not a quick thing – nor should it be. I had the idea way back. I woke up one morning and had the name in my head – Talk2Nish. It’s a mental health peer mentor programme for secondary schools [in the first instance]. My daughter was a great listener, but also, like so many young people, had her own struggles with feelings about self esteem in a world that was bombarding her with all sorts of messages 24/7. Who should she be, what should she do, how should she live? There are so many expectations when, in the end, she was just wonderful in every single way just as she was, as I would tell her often. It was a message she passed on to her friends. ‘Just do you,” she’d say. I’ve got a recording of her saying just that.

It’s hard to know what ‘you’ is, of course, particularly in the teen years when you are trying to figure it all out. I wanted to take the essence of who she was – a fairly amazing friend to many – and give it back to others. So the aim of the charity is to give young people somewhere to go when they are at school where they can be listened to without prejudice [pace George Michael]. The idea is that they may not feel comfortable talking to a member of the pastoral support team. It may be easier to talk to someone around their own age. Talk2Nish trains the mentors who are selected by the school and works with the pastoral support team to provide them with the support they need, including regular check-ins.

We’re already piloting in my daughter’s old school. We’re almost at the end of the first cohort and will do the second round of training, a handover and evaluation in the next month. I went to part of the first training session and I was blown away by the interest and commitment of the sixth formers being trained. Several had done TikToks on mental health; many had their own personal stories of mental health issues and the Covid experience was a big factor for several. They learnt about a broad range of different forms mental ill health can take and what can influence it. They also did workshops to hone their skills and boost their confidence. The trainer we are working with is amazing and drove home to them how important what they were doing was.  We gave each of them a certificate and a booklet and followed up with more advice. During the training with a member of the pastoral support team, the head teacher popped in to lend her support.

The mentors are not there to provide counselling. They are not professionals. They are there to listen and direct those who need it to more support, including through the pastoral support team. Of course, we know that that support may require a long waiting list, but for some just having someone to offload to may be an important first step. Plus the programme, which will have blogs, videos and noticeboard information around the school, aims to raise the profile of mental health in schools generally, including through assemblies.

The trustees all have some connection with education or mental health and all of them knew my daughter. They include her first head teacher. Anisha’s friends have been very supportive so now it is just a question of getting going. Watch this space.



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