More than 100 secondary school pupils from schools and colleges across Kent met together to join the ‘Big Conversation’ about mental health in young people on Wednesday, March 21.
The event, organised by Big Lottery Fund-supported HeadStart Kent, gave students information on improving their mental health, with workshops leading up to a big debate. Workshops with a practical element gave an opportunity to try proven techniques to lessen anxiety. These included recognising how to build resilience, healthy relationships, the use of social media and yoga.
The event was brilliantly compered by four young people from Kent Youth County Council, Jess Griffiths, Dan Faulkner, Elena Ewence and Indiana Finn.
Roger Gough, Cabinet Member for Children, Young People and Education, said: “With a growing number of young people suffering from mental health issues, it is everyone’s business to lessen the stigma around mental health and to build resilience. The purpose of the event was to give young people and their peers a greater understanding of what help is available in order to support their own emotional health and wellbeing.”
The day-long event featured a speech from Time to Change Youth Champion, Natalya Fineron, who shared her own story of the effects of poor mental health on her own life and how, with support, she has dealt with these challenges and provided valuable advice to young people on supporting good mental health.
Chloe Blanks, who is studying health and social care in the sixth form at Canterbury Academy, said: “We are currently planning our first Youth Health Champions project. Throughout the day at the HeadStart Big Conversation, by visiting stalls and engaging in workshops, we got lots of good ideas and resources to help us improve our future delivery.
“It was really positive to see so many young people and professionals coming together to help improve the mental health of young people in Kent.”
During the debate session, young people asked questions to a range of professionals and practitioners from a range of services, including School Nursing, Public Health, Kent Police, the charity Time to Change and Matt Dunkley, Kent County Council’s Corporate Director for Children, Young People and Education.
Workshops during the day were led by organisations including Yoga Life Therapies, Juli Dosad Graphic Artist and Pixel Learning. Other partners on the day included Salus, Porchlight, Xenzone, Social Sense, Imago, Addaction, NHS Youth Forum, Kent Fire and Rescue Service and Maidstone and Mid-Kent Mind.
The event was also attended by Shellina Prendergast, KCC’s Deputy Cabinet Member for Children, Young People and Education, and Sarah Benioff, Deputy Director for Strategic Funding at the Big Lottery Fund.
HeadStart Kent is funded by the Big Lottery Fund to support 10 to 16 year-olds to build resilience; which is defined by young people as the ability to be mentally strong enough to bounce back from the problems in life.
The programme is currently active in Ashford, Canterbury, Folkestone and Hythe, Gravesham and Swale and rolls out to Maidstone and Thanet later this year and to Dover and Tonbridge and Malling next year. There is a Kent-wide Resilience Hub available at www.headstartkent.org.uk offering information, videos and tools for everyone to use, as well as activities and services for young people.
Young people can be involved with the design and delivery of the programme by joining local youth forums known as Speak Out groups. Anyone interested should email HeadStart@kent.gov.uk