Right Here’s top tips for promoting mental wellbeing in youth work

Right Here projects have developed a wide range of resources and tools to support young people’s mental health.13 This is what our collective experience has taught us over the years:

About staff knowledge and skills

  • Learn about mental wellbeing and how to support it. Websites such as www.wellinformed.org.uk, developed and funded through the Innovation Labs initiative (www.innovationlabs.org.uk), will provide you with much of what you need to know.
  • Think about recruiting a counsellor or therapist as part of your team, or talk to other mental health or youth counselling services about hosting a member of staff on a regular basis (see case example box of Right Here Sheffield). Postgraduate student placements may offer another possible route.
  • Provide good support and supervision for staff, including clinical supervision, where required, particularly where staff are young or have little direct mental health experience (Right Here Newham has done this). Group supervision  and peer support can give younger members of staff the opportunity to learn from more experienced staff members.
  • Evaluate what you do, so you know whether you are making a difference.
  • Remember that staff have their own mental health and wellbeing too, so try to do something positive for workers as well.

About programmes and activities

  • Provide fun activities that you know will appeal to young people and look for the mental health hook in them. This could include physical and creative activities like climbing, fishing, boxing, comedy, musical workshops or other participative arts activities.
  • If you wish to embed mental wellbeing education or learning within your service, consider delivering short ‘one-off sessions’ to start with, rather than longer courses. This can help to plant a seed and get young people talking about the subject. You can build from there.

About supportive cultures and environments

  • Create a panel that focuses on young people’s mental wellbeing to inform your work, or build mental wellbeing into the work and scope of existing panels.
  • Think about the language you use. Terms like ‘mental illness’, even ‘mental health’ – in fact anything with the word ‘mental’ in it – can  be off-putting. There is certainly a place for challenging the stigma surrounding these terms, but in the meantime you may find that words like ‘wellbeing’, ‘emotions’, ‘stress’ or ‘feeling down’ are often more acceptable.
  • Balance opportunities for group participation with access to direct one-on-one support, enabling the level of support for vulnerable young people to be flexible according to need.
  • Support young people with mental health issues to take part in activities by:
    • calling or meeting with a young person to talk about what is available;
    • keeping in touch flexibly by text, e-mail and telephone before and after activities;
    • being flexible about attendance but still keeping in touch if someone does not turn up;
    • accompanying a young person to a meeting;
    • being present even where other people are running an activity.

About connections and relationships

  • Get to know mental health and youth counselling services in your local area and build relationships with them. This could include statutory CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) and AMHS (Adult Mental Health Services) but also local mental health charities and YIACS (Youth Information, Advice, Counselling and Support, http://youthaccess.org.uk/find-your-local-service/). Invite them to run sessions or ask them to provide training for youth workers.