10 October 2021
World Mental Health Day, reminds me of the rush which has left us breathless, as we wake up to log in to our online classes, breathless to stock up on food, breathless to go back to school and work after so long – breathless to be. As young people in London, especially in the past year, we have had a lot of I-can’t-explain thoughts and I-am-fine-but-not-really days, that we find it difficult to talk about – things simply feel, out of our control.
Life on pause
With lockdowns, life paused, and we realised, more than ever, that the rush outside of our bedroom window, is a marathon that begins from within our minds. This marathon stretches to our schools, families, friends, services – who tell us to keep running. If we are clothed, housed & fed, there is no other good reason for us to stop, and yet, we feel breathless.
During the past years, I have learnt that youth clubs and youth workers, parents, carers & friends who are keen to learn and listen have created stops for us, to pat us on the back, and offer us a seat.
A seed of hope
World Mental Health Day should remind us that even though we are walking towards the ‘adult world’, we are in fact like toddlers, taking doubtful steps towards the ‘new normal’. During the pandemic, I planted a seed of hope.
As part of the London Youth microgrant project with the support of London Youth and Shpresa Programme I was given the opportunity to create a stop as a response to the endless marathon that young people embark on, and let it grow strong roots, leaves and flowers.
We created The Mental Health Alphabet Project, which aims to explore mental health. Through interviews, confessions, opinions, focus groups this project will delve into the stigma of mental health in the roots of the minority communities where mental health is not ‘a cup of tea’ kind of topic. We want to create an open and ever-growing source of information and support for minority communities, and organisations that work with them.
“Take a seat, breathe, let’s talk about it”
For our first Youth Board meeting of the year I ran the green chair activity creating a space and platform to have difficult conversations around mental health. “Take a seat, breathe, let’s talk about it.” We all wrote down our fears, anxieties on ribbons and covered the chair with them, then each young person picked a ribbon and then spoke about it. Common phrases were ‘stress’, ‘poverty’, ‘mental health in the Black community’, ‘inequality’, ‘age restrictions’.
We wanted young people to talk openly about their issues & concerns – and the feedback of our first try was inspiring.
The green chair
“You don’t just talk about what you want to talk about, but you also can elaborate on another person’s choice of issue/concern from your own perspective, and that sparks a discussion, we find similarities & differences. We learn and enjoy it.” – Young person, participant at the pilot green chair activity
Following the pilot, we’ll aim to run monthly sessions of ‘The Green Chair’ activity, and so many exciting initiatives, interviews, and discussions to follow in our journey of awareness and stigma. The Mental Health Alphabet project is growing, and we take care of its roots, leaves and flowers daily. We think that all young people deserve to be offered a seat and a chance to plant a seed of hope, because your chair will become green if you talk about it, and will grow roots, leaves & flowers if we talk together.
– Amina, Young Ambassador
This blog is part of our Coming of Age in the Capital series. Young people face huge challenges as a result of the pandemic, but too often their voices go largely unheard in the mainstream. As part of this programme, we’re giving young Londoners a chance to share their perspectives, ideas and lived experience and campaign on the issues affecting their lives.