I started volunteering for The Project at the end of last year. It’s an East Devon-based organisation which runs peer support groups for young people aged 13-24 with mental health issues. It also provides mental health training and workshops, for schools, businesses and the general public. Lots of people choose to support specific charities/organisations because they have directly benefitted from them in the past, but I wanted to help The Project for the opposite reason: I wish it had been around when I was a teenager.
A couple of days ago, I had an Instagram exchange with a parent whose child is on the waiting list for one of The Project’s groups and she made a comment which resonates with me (and probably many other people): “The Project gives hope to families.”
When I was a teenager, nobody spoke about mental health. There were no local organisations available to help me and my mental health problems were dismissed as “only stress” by teachers. I wasn’t diagnosed with a mental illness until I was 18, because I didn’t tell my doctor about all my symptoms – I believed they were somehow my own fault and I was embarrassed to mention them. Instead, I was treated for recurrent throat infections and tension headaches caused by stress (and, with hindsight, depression and anxiety). Social media didn’t exist and mental health was rarely mentioned in the press or on television.
The fact that The Project exists is a big deal. It shows young people with mental health problems that someone cares – and they are not alone.
The Project gives hope to many people affected by mental health, including parents/carers, who have their own monthly peer support group. It helps young people and families across East Devon, South Somerset, West Dorset and beyond. It raises awareness of the issues surrounding mental health and equips people to cope better and support others with mental health issues.
In my role as volunteer Writing and Communications Officer (a title chosen for me, not by me!), I’m trying to help The Project get more publicity so that it can spread mental health awareness and help more young people. When I was 18, I thought my life was over. Mental illness had prevented me from going to university as planned, I struggled to find a job (and to keep the job when I found it, since my mental health caused a high rate of absence) and felt I had nothing positive in my life. The help available from the NHS was limited and I was patronised and dismissed. A psychiatrist even told me that the only treatment options available were for “serious conditions, like schizophrenia” – despite the fact I had attempted suicide and was still feeling suicidal.
I don’t want today’s young people to have the same experiences. The Project gives them somewhere to go, someone to turn to, support to access. The Project tells each and every young person – whether or not they attend the support groups – that they matter. Their mental health and wellbeing are important. They deserve support.
An Inclusive Approach
One of the things I love about The Project is that young people don’t need to be diagnosed with a mental health condition in order to attend the support groups. Some have mental illnesses; others are struggling with mental health issues like bullying, bereavement and exam stress. While I’m frustrated when medical diagnoses are regarded as labels, I think the priority of all people and organisations involved in mental health should be to reassure and support anyone who is struggling. The Project does this: there are no hoops to jump through or boxes to tick. If your mental health is suffering, the solution is more important than the reason.
The solution The Project offers is holistic and flexible. The peer support groups are informal, relaxed and friendly. Nobody is pressured to talk about their feelings – or to do anything they don’t want to do. Every session involves at least one activity aimed at giving young people life skills and tools they can use to manage their mental health, but participation is optional. The activities are varied: cooking, arts and crafts, stress management techniques, music and group discussions have all featured.
Mental health can affect all aspects of your life and all aspects of life can affect your mental health. The Project not only acknowledges this, but embraces it.
The Project Needs Support to Provide Support
You may have seen on social media that The Project has launched a crowdfunding campaign, #Support4September: http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/theprojectyp It aims to raise £15,000+ during this September, which also marks The Project’s 4th birthday, so The Project can continue providing all of its services for another year.
The Project receives funding from Comic Relief, but needs to (at least) match the amount of money it’s given by Comic Relief in order to function. It cannot survive without the generosity of its supporters. Raising the money needed is difficult and The Project needs all the help it can get. Please donate to the #Support4September campaign and spread the word to everyone you know – by supporting The Project this September, you will help to support young people all year round.
The value of giving hope to young people with mental health issues and their families cannot be underestimated. During dark times, The Project is a beacon to those in need of support. To keep it shining, please visit http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/theprojectyp Thank you.
For more information about The Project, please visit http://www.theprojectyp.org.uk