Integrating wellbeing enhancement approaches can seem daunting

Some of the thoughts below may have crossed your mind…

“I don’t have the time or money.”

Youth workers have many demands and priorities – mental wellbeing may just seem like another responsibility to add to never-ending list. However, it is worth remembering that by promoting mental wellbeing, you will be working to get the best out of the young people you support, and it may end up making your job easier!

“It’s not my job.”

A useful starting place can be to reflect on the mental wellbeing improvement aspects of what you already do, using the Five Steps to Wellbeing. Consider what opportunities to support mental wellbeing can be built into all new activities and programmes as they arise.

“I don’t want to get it wrong.”

Mental wellbeing is sometimes perceived to be the domain of specialist health professionals, but there are some principles of youth work that directly lend themselves to mental wellbeing improvement. For example, youth participation approaches that encourage young people to have a voice, get involved and have some say in the groups they belong to have been shown to increase confidence and self-esteem.

“It’s too scary.”

Similarly, activities which encourage ‘flow’ (where young people get fully immersed in an activity) have also been linked to increased levels of focus, enjoyment and fulfilment (see case example box of Right Here Fermanagh).

“What if I open up Pandora’s box?”

It is a common worry that if you talk about mental wellbeing everything will come tumbling out in a long stream when you don’t feel you have the time, space or expertise to handle it.

How to manage conversations about mental wellbeing:

  • Find out about available mental health and youth counselling services for young people and link with them. Have a list of other services you can directly refer to or signpost to if further support is needed.
  • Know who to contact if support needs are urgent – for example, if you believe the young person might be at risk of immediate harm. Undertake some form of needs assessment of all young people when they start, so that you know what their needs are and can help them access additional support if required.
  • Recognise that there may be times  when hearing the experiences of young people will affect you or other staff members emotionally. Supervision should offer staff the opportunity to express their own  emotional responses and receive support where needed.
  • Have these conversations in a quiet space and set aside a bit of time for them if possible. Agree on a time to come back to this issue and talk about it some more if this is appropriate. Look for non-verbal signs of emotional distress such as lack of eye contact, poor concentration, closed body posture or unusual energy levels (either very low or very high).
  • Finally, there are numerous training courses available if you feel you need a bit more knowledge. Right Here Newham provided all their staff with Mental Health First Aid training, for example.

Local mental health and youth counselling services and charities may also be able to help direct you to
appropriate training courses or provide training for you themselves. It may be worth exploring the extent to which developing your skills in this area can be included as part of your Continuing Personal Development plan.