From learning the art of overcoming egos to upholding children’s right to be taken seriously, young mental health activists share their ideas on how to build a better society as they answer EachOther’s big questions.
Charity Youth Access has assembled a group of 16-to-25-year-old activists who are leading a nationwide campaign to reform mental health services, so that they better serve young people based on their human rights.
Among the campaign’s “steering group” is Siobhan Keating, who earlier this month told EachOther about her own “horrible” experiences with the mental healthcare system in her early teens.
Siobhan Keating. Image Credit: Aaron Walawalkar
Here the seven-strong group – completed by Amber, Chara-Santia, Katie, Lucy, Rhianne and Sophie – shares its views on everything from gang violence to healing divisions in society.
What was the most important lesson you learned growing up?
Lucy: I always used to think there was a standard path you had to take in life. But I learned that there are so many different roads you can take in life. You can get to where you want to go, even if you go through unconventional roads.
Rhianne: Everyone is always going through something. Not everything someone does is down to you. It could be because of something they are going through.
Siobhan: Never accept the first answer you’re given when it comes to mental health. Get what you want, not anything less.
Rhianne. Image Credit: Youth Access.
Who would play you in a movie of your life and why?
Siobhan: I’ve just got, like, an unserious answer. My friends say I’m like Cameron Diaz, for no specific reason. Just apparently we’ve got the same aura. I’m just so, you know, “sod the world”. That kind of thing.
Sophie: I don’t know… I feel like everybody has, like, a Bridget Jones sort of morning.
Sophie. Image Credit: Youth Access.
What advice would you give a 10-year-old you?
Siobhan: It’s okay not to be okay and to ask for help.
Sophie: Nothing is more important than your health. There is not one set path to take. There are a lot of pressures that make you think: “I need to do this at the detriment of my health”. Just know it’s not important compared to how you feel and how you how healthy you are.
… your worth is not dependent on what people think of you …
Siobhan: Someone recently said to me: “You are the only person that can put yourself first”. I just thought about it a lot and thought: “You know what? I am the only person you can put myself first.”
Rhianne: I would say, maybe, your worth is not dependent on what people think of you. Or like, what you have done so far.
Lucy: Just because you don’t fit in in school doesn’t mean you’re destined to not fit in.
Lucy. Image Credit: Youth Access.
Siobhan: That’s a big point as well because I was bullied. I got picked on in secondary school because I was the only person in my year who could do the higher paper. When I got to college things changed and instead of people picking on me for being smart they actually wanted to be my friend because of it. But, when I was younger, it was so un-cool.
What would you say you’re most proud of ?
Instead of focusing on the past, I would say the best thing is still being here after everything that has happened in my life. Just actually being here and doing things and now being able to support other people.
Katie: My education. Yeah. Once I went out and got one qualification I felt like I wanted to do another course, because I earned that. It just makes me feel quite proud. And then back in 2014 I got an award for personal endeavour which is a big achievement for me. I achieved qualifications in children and young people’s mental health as well as caring for children and young people, among other things.
Amber: Instead of focusing on the past, I would say the best thing is still being here after everything that has happened in my life. Just actually being here and doing things and now being able to support other people. I now monitor and co-ordinate a suicide prevention programme, which was a massive thing at the time. It was massive risk of getting me involved in that. But now I am two years into it.
Is there anything you would like to achieve which you haven’t yet?
Siobhan: Achieve a human-rights based approach to mental health.
Anybody else? Or care to elaborate?
Siobhan: That’s what our campaign is about.
If you could immediately put right one injustice in the UK right now, which would it be and why?
Siobhan: Parity of esteem – so that mental health and physical health are seen as equal. Which currently, it is not.
Katie: Like, with I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here and Caitlin Jenner, who had a gender change. People are always misgendering her on purpose on social media. I see it all the time on Facebook.
Katie. Image Credit: Youth Access.
Rhianne: I think gang violence needs to be treated as a social and health problem instead of children or youths being treated like criminals. Especially when there’s the grooming of young kids involved. When you are under a certain age, you’re obviously more vulnerable.
Which human right is most important to you and why?
Amber: The right to health, which covers mental health, is probably the most important to me. But, aside from that, also the right to private and family life because that covers loads of things. You can use that to make sure you don’t get separated from your family and stuff like that. And I’m massively tight with my family, that’s a big thing.
But it also protects your right to be you in a way, your sexuality and religion and all those things.
What I’ve learned through my volunteering is that no change happens for young people when young people are not allowed to the table for our voices to be heard.
Lucy: Articles 12 and 13 of the Convention of the Rights Of The Child, which protects young people’s freedom of speech and their right to be heard and taken seriously.
What I’ve learned through my volunteering is that no change happens for young people when young people are not allowed to the table for our voices to be heard. So I think the power of these rights that we can refer to them and we can say this is in international law.
Chara-Santia. Image Credit: Youth Access.
Do you have any ideas about what should be done to help heal the divisions in society right now?
Amber: Cutting through unnecessary barriers and removing egos. There’s organisations, charities, just loads of people doing the same thing to try and benefit people. But because we cannot connect for whatever reason, it makes it so hard for anyone to actually benefit from it and it makes processes so long.
Everything I ever do, it’s like, I don’t care if my name or company name is on it. All that matters is that we’re trying to help people – it shouldn’t really matter who is doing it.
Sophie: Yeah, I totally agree with that. Ego is a big barrier to getting anything done in terms of cooperation between different organisations, different political parties…
Siobhan: I think ignorance plays a big part in that as well.
Lucy: I think that about the language that the people in power, or public figures, use – whether that is constructive or whether it’s sort of stirring up hatred or division.
Siobhan: If people in power are being racist or sexist man it makes other people feel that it is fine to be racist and sexist.
Sophie: It is already happening slowly but I would like to more representation of different cultures, different abilities, just more representation in general is just such a good thing. It just means that people will feel more represented and that their needs are being attended to.
Join young people taking a stand for #MyRightsMyMind, by signing the petition calling on decision-makers to take a rights-based approach to mental healthcare.