Hello! I am very excited to be writing my first blog for Oxfordshire Youth.  I’ve recently joined the team so thought I would introduce myself and tell you about a new and exciting project. My name is Rachel and I am the new Mental Health Ambassador Coordinator, powered by Oxfordshire Youth as part of the Mental Wealth Academy led by Response. So, before I start here is an overview of The Mental Wealth Academy:

 ‘The Mental Wealth Academy is an innovative new project supporting 18-25 year olds affected by life-changing events, who are falling through gaps created by transition pathways from CAMHS to Adult Mental Health services. Furthermore…families will be supported to enable them to work with their children and young people to recover from mental health issues following a life changing event. The Mental Wealth Academy model will include partners Ark T, Oxfordshire MIND, Oxfordshire Youth, SOFEA and BYHP and the work will be characterised by an aspirational, co-productive approach with the aim of reducing health inequalities, increasing resilience and improving life chances’ (Response, 2020)

With that in mind the Mental Health Ambassador project is about using young people’s (ages 18-25) lived experiences to inform and develop ways to reach out and support the younger generation (ages 11-17).

I think the majority of us can agree that lock down has tested our minds; I know mine has certainly struggled. Now more than ever it’s so important that we come together in kindness so that we can discuss the effects of COVID and explore how to support the health of our minds, click here to see some services that could help. The idea of mental health has been something that I have been trying to get my head around for years. It’s only been in the last 4 years that I’ve realised that we have to actively look after our mental health just like we do for our bodies. It’s something I was never taught at school and to be honest the idea of ‘mental health’ wasn’t even a thing, this was over 10 years ago and times are changing (thankfully!).  I’ve struggled with my mental health for many years and have received help in lots of different ways, it’s taught me there is hope and sometimes we have to think outside of the box when it comes to getting better and asking for help.

That’s why the Mental Health Ambassador Project is really exciting. I know that when people have shared their struggles it helped me realise I wasn’t on my own and it’s ok not to be happy or have the perfect life (contrary to what Instagram often tells us!). Peer support has been an important part of my journey, for example being able to connect with someone on my level often inspired me. I learnt that even though mental illness made me feel isolated, it didn’t always have to be like that. I think it’s important to add that everyone’s journey is different, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try and help each other and create a safe space where people feel able to explore how they’re feeling.

So, when I was offered the job as the new Mental Health Ambassador Coordinator I jumped at the chance because I believe that if you feel ready to share your lived experiences it can help to inspire others. That doesn’t mean you need to stand from the roof top and shout about how bad it got but now you’re living your best life; let’s be honest, life doesn’t often work that.  Deciding to share your experiences can be done in so many different ways: art, music, video, conversation, sport, writing, cooking, games, therapy and so so so many more! It needs to be a way that works for you, and your way could be the way that helps someone else. I want to stress that you have to feel that you’re at the right point in your journey to do this, I wasn’t for many years. I then thought I was ready to start sharing about it on a more open stage and realised I wasn’t, and that’s ok. The road to recovery is pretty jumbly.

Anyway, let me tell you a little more about the project. The Mental Health Ambassador project aims to bring a group of young people (18-25) who have been supported with their own mental health through the Mental Wealth Academy and use their lived experience to help and inspire others.

Over 10 months (July2020-October2020) young people will participate in interactive sessions to develop confidence, friendships, and leadership skills. Sessions will include: building resilience to social media; coping techniques e.g. mindfulness; leadership skills; safeguarding training; elements of mental health first aid; and workshop delivery.  They will participate in group work, 1:1 sessions, different training sessions, and independent study. As a team they will then create and support the delivery of a workshop for 11-17 year olds to help them learn more about mental health and wellbeing (November2020-April2021). All of this will help them to carry on working towards supporting their own wellbeing in a supported peer environment.  After the project is over there are so many ways they can progress with this project, for example, shadowing mental health trainers, joining Oxfordshire Youth’s Youth Voice, and/or becoming a Mental Health Ambassador mentor.

This may sound like a daunting project but the young person’s wellbeing comes first, here’s some of the ways they will be supported:

  1. Access to 1:1 sessions
  2. A personal growth plan
  3. Working in a small team
  4. Flexible project to fit around their needs
  5. You won’t be forced to do anything you don’t feel comfortable with

To find out more or if you have any questions about the project please feel free to get in contact with me: rachel.wood@oxfordshireyouth.org. or Rachel OxYouth on Facebook 🙂

“Maybe one day you will tell someone about this storm and it will inspire them to keep on going”