This blog post was written by Lynsey Eland
At Carlisle Eden Mind we have provided Advocacy for over 25 years, ensuring adults are able to speak up and express their views, wishes and concerns in relation to their mental health. But the more and more we worked with adults, we began to become increasingly aware that many lacked the confidence and communication skills to be able to use their voice, be heard and engage with those around them.
This difficulty in finding their voice and using it, was a barrier and significantly limited their control, involvement and access to the very people or services that may be able to help them, they needed to be able to be heard and self advocate.
We decided that early intervention was what was needed and often with the first onset of mental health issues usually occurring in childhood or adolescence where better to start than with young people. We applied to Children in Need for funding to be able to provide free independent advocacy to young people aged between 11 and 18 years old. Children in Need were brilliant: they completely understood what we were trying to achieve and the importance of young people being heard, and so Your Voice Advocacy for young people began.
To help young people to learn the power and importance of using their voice when taking care of their mental health.
When young people are experiencing any issue that is causing them emotional or mental distress, we are someone independent to talk to and assist them to be able to look at their options, find reliable information and speak to those around them, who may be able to help to resolve the issue. Through Your Voice advocacy we work alongside young people helping them to learn the skills and tools to ensure their voice, views, wishes and rights are upheld. We do this by modelling great communication skills, respecting their views and helping them to talk through the issue out loud. Helping them to understand and look at their choices and the possible consequences. Sometimes we can be their voice until they are ready to self-advocate and speak for themselves. This approach has helped young people to know that when they speak up constructively it can change their immediate and long term future. Learning to use your voice and a decision-making process that works for you, can have a long lasting impact on your future. In a world where people don’t always listen, self advocacy is often a skill that is taken for granted, but is essential.
We work on everything from a young person struggling to speak up to access mental health services, a young person finding it difficult to have their voice heard within their friendship group to a young person who is experiencing being in the middle of their parents’ divorce.
In a world where some young people appear to share everything, they often find sharing their, views, wishes and needs the hardest. Assisting young people to learn and value real communication is essential and in cases where young people may be struggling to share their thoughts of suicide, it may even save lives.
I think the biggest barriers we needed to and still often need to revisit, were ensuring people mainly refers understood that we deliver advocacy, not counselling. Advocacy can be a difficult sell, with regards as to how people think it can help young people. But it really does work, often young people don’t need us to give them the answers, they have the answers themselves. They just need assistance to get them across to others or someone to help them be 20% braver to ask and seek help. One of the main pieces of feedback we receive from young people is that we gave them time to speak with out being judged. We listened and gave them space to work out their options and what they wanted to do next.
Engaging with schools and referrers took some time we had to work hard at this and do a lot of leg work. It came down to connecting with the right person at the right time. Once schools were able to to see the benefits for the young people they referred, they got on board.
Another challenge can be when we are advocating for a young persons who’s views and wishes don’t match with those around them. Other’s can take out their frustration on you as the advocate and its important to not take this personally. You are their to help represent the young persons views and wishes even were you may not agree with them (as long as they are not dangerous/unsafe). This can be hard for others to understand why you would help a young person go down that road. In these situation it is important for the other adults involved remain looking at the young persons best interests.
Lynsey Eland works for Carlisle Eden Mind Cumbria, and has been a mental health advocate for over 8 years, working specifically to provide young people with advocacy for the last 5 years.
Your Voice also delivers mental health awareness and anti-stigma training in schools to students across Cumbria. This is also a great project to be involves in as their training focuses on encouraging young people to recognise and speak up early about any concerns they may have about theirs or others’ mental health.