11 May 2021
This is part of a series of blogs to mark Mental Health Awareness Week 2021, giving a range of perspectives from the London Youth team.
“Children should be seen and not heard” is still the adage reinforced time and time again; “don’t talk in class”, “ladies, don’t sit like that”. In many aspects of life young people are encouraged to be silent, to take up less space and to be less. As we transition to adults there are fewer and fewer opportunities to physically release all that we hold inside. Young children can run around, scream, shout and play but there is a threshold age by which point this becomes unacceptable, and we begin to squash ourselves smaller and smaller.
Recently, I was lucky enough to visit Youth Realities for their Good For Girls session. On my journey home, I had a moment to reflect on the session, my personal journey to the Good For Girls programme, and why it is so important.
Youth Realities is a youth-led organisation based in Barnet, addressing teenage relationship abuse through creative education and specialist, survivor-centred support. They are on a mission to educate, empower and support young people to feel happier, healthier and safer; through youth-centred creativity, empathy and healing.
Sophie is the youth worker delivering Good For Girls at Youth Realities, “It’s less acceptable to be loud when you get older, which is why I think it’s really important that we keep in touch with our childlike self and keep in touch with the physical release from activities. That’s the difference between kids who play a lot and do a lot of sports or be creative and are allowed to just be themselves and be free.”
I know that art and sports can change people because of my own experience. Being involved in the arts and sports have had a massive impact in supporting me to better understand myself and manage my mental health and wellbeing. They have been my physical release and have allowed me to be part of a community that supports me and lets me know that I will be okay. When the world squashes and squeezes you to be quiet, these physical releases are a way to fight back.
As a young person and into my early adult life, I experienced bouts of poor mental health. I had anxieties about my height, skin colour, family background and I felt out of place in the world. Theatre provided me with profound moments to express myself and explore parts of different identities that make me, me. With three elder brothers, playing sport was non-negotiable, but at an all-girls secondary school, the main exercise encouraged was walking to and from the canteen. As a struggling young adult, I got into running and have not stopped since. My running time is for me, it gives me space to be alone in nature and take time out from the highs and lows of life.
Back at Youth Realities, the girls participate in a breathing exercise. Sophie leads them to regulate their breathing, calming them down and releasing any anxieties. Then everyone begins to tap their hands against their bodies and stamp their feet on the floor. They are encouraged to think about any tensions that have built up, things that have been consuming them or that they want to let go of. Their hands and their feet tap faster and faster. As the exercise reaches its peak, the girls let it all out in a scream. The exercise is then run through a second time; with the girls encouraged to think about anything they held back because of fear of judgement or because it was difficult to let out. And then they scream again.
Sophie is clear about the intention of the exercise; “to help them relieve stress and have that kind of physical relief. A lot of the time we might talk through our emotions or think through them or overthink them but actually having that physical release is so powerful. This is why sports or creative activities are really important. It is a physical release of all the worries and stress and anxieties in our bodies.”
“I am really excited to run a programme like this because so often young girls’ voices are not heard, or they’re neglected. It’s great to provide them with tools and outlets to help them with their wellbeing. It is also so important that it is focused on Black and ethnic minorities because we are some of the most marginalised in society and need support for all the extra adversities we face because of our background. There is also a need to break stigmas against mental health in these communities as well. Overall, I’m glad that this opportunity has been provided and I really wish I had something like this when I was younger, so I’m glad I can now facilitate it for the next generation of young girls.”
As Programme Manager, I am so pleased to see the positive effects that the Good For Girls sessions are having on the girls and young women on the programme. We need to make spaces for young women to be child-like and we all need to scream more!
Rebekah Keane | Programme Manager