Youth work and mental wellbeing go hand in hand

The Right Here programme has found that youth organisations are in a very good position to support the mental wellbeing of young people. Below are just a few reasons why.

Five reasons youth agencies should make mental wellbeing an important part of their work:

  1. Youth agencies are often more acceptable and accessible to young people than traditional health services1.
  2. Youth agencies often reach vulnerable young people at increased risk of developing mental health problems2.
  3. Early intervention in mental health problems amongst young people results in better outcomes in adult life3.
  4. All interactions with young people offer the opportunity to promote mental wellbeing4.
  5. Many of the activities youth agencies undertake are, by their nature, already improving mental wellbeing5.

“I’ve avoided being in a swamp of other people with the same problems.”

– Young person, Right Here Brighton and Hove

“We need common sense and the human touch, not a person being clinical.”

– Young person, Right Here Sheffield

The New Economics Foundation (NEF) highlights five actions that research tells us can improve our mental wellbeing: connect, keep learning, give, take notice and be active6. Below are some ways youth organisations can build these approaches into their work.

Five ways to well being


Youth organisations often provide opportunities for young people to get together, build connections and friendships, and provide peer support among themselves. This can help to build tolerance and empathy amongst young people and can be particularly powerful for groups of young people known to be at higher risk of developing mental health problems.

Peer support groups developed through Right Here have included:

  • A group of young mothers, which aims to promote their own independence and remind them of their aspirations and strengths (Fermanagh)
  • Groups of young men (Newham and Fermanagh)
  • Groups of young volunteers who have designed and delivered wellbeing improvement activities for their peers (all sites)

“I’ve learnt how to give respect to people. We’ve been given activities to help us – what to do if you are stuck in a group and you want to get to know them. Team building skills and activities. When I first joined, it was really useful; there were people locally I could then get to meet. People around me say that I have started talking and talking now.”

– Young person, Right Here

Keep Learning

Opportunities for learning can occur through structured educational courses and training, but also through the development of practical knowledge and life skills. All of these offer the opportunity for young people to build their confidence and self-esteem.

Examples of Right Here’s approach to supporting learning include:

  • Well being Champions – a ten-week accredited training programme which runs for two hours each week encouraging young people to advocate for well being enhancement activities (Newham)
  • Dare you Share? – a board game designed by young people to increase understanding about the mental health issues and the associated stigma experienced by young people (Sheffield)


NEF says that “seeing yourself, and your happiness linked to the wider community can be incredibly rewarding and creates connections with the people around you.”12 Developing opportunities for young people to make a difference to their communities can have considerable value to improving mental wellbeing and social connectedness.

The Right Here approach has supported volunteering and community activity in a number of ways, including:

  • Youth Bank, a youth-led community grant making programme (Fermanagh)
  • Mental Health Ambassadors (Sheffield)
  • Youth panels and groups of volunteers, working with staff, to shape and deliver programmes (all sites)

“Starting with the Youth Bank and people helping themselves and their own community… that was
something great… It was just fantastic taking part in helping other people know about mental health. ”

– Young person, Right Here Fermanagh

 Take Notice

Taking notice can mean looking at the world around you, but it can also include reflecting on what you are feeling and appreciating what matters to you. Several Right Here courses have focused on ecognising
and dealing with negative emotions, such as anger:

  • Cage the Rage (Sheffield)
  • Keep Calm and Carry On (Brighton and Hove)

“It’s taught me how to deal with my anger issues. Sometimes I do forget but when I give myself the time
to think about things I just don’t get angry. It’s just amazing. I never would have known this myself if I didn’t come here.”

– Young person, Right Here Brighton and Hove

Be Active

Exercise and physical activity can be promoted through specific groups, clubs and activities run by youth groups or in partnership with leisure centres. In addition to physical health benefits, these activities can promote a range of mental wellbeing benefits including boosting mood, promoting social interaction and friendship. It can also help young people to understand the connections between mental health and physical health.

Examples of physical activities groups developed in Right Here are:

  • Indoor rock climbing drop-in (Brighton and Hove)
  • Non-contact boxing classes (Newham)
  • Fishing (Fermanagh)
  • Walk and Talk (Sheffield and Brighton and Hove)

“Climbing was every fortnight. I was able to see my anxiety lessen. I was teary, had panic attacks but
then I had to get to the top. The bit where you have to stand up was my nemesis. It’s really visual … to be
able to see my anxiety lessen. You can measure it.”

– Young person, Right Here Brighton and Hove


  • 1 Gulliver A, Griffiths KM and Christensen H (2010) Perceived barriers and facilitators to mental health helpseeking in young people: a systematic review, BMC Psychiatry. 10:113
  • 2 Merton B et al. (2004) An Evaluation of the Impact of Youth Work in England. DFES
  • 3 Kim-Cohen J, Caspi A, Moffitt TE, Harrington HL, Milne BJ and Poulton R (2003) Prior Juvenile Diagnoses in Adults With Mental Disorder: Developmental Follow-Back of a Prospective-Longitudinal Cohort. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 60(7): 709–717
  • 4 Mind & Mental Health Foundation (2013) Building Resilient Communities: Making every contact count for public mental health
  • 5 Dunne A et al. (2014) Working with young people: the value of youth work in the European Union. European Commission
  • 6 The New Economics Foundation (2008) Five Ways to Wellbeing: A report presented to the Foresight Project on communicating the evidence base for improving people’s wellbeing