It was just over 12 months ago that YMCA England was successful in attracting a Department for Education (DfE) grant to deliver a mental health programme that looked to fill a void created by the reduced capacity of Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).
A YMCA Manifesto produced ahead of the 2015 General Election had highlighted to us the dissatisfaction of CAMHS services, with young people telling us that waiting lists and access criteria were such that they felt they had nowhere to turn for help.
Furthermore, they told us that there was inadequate information in the media, at school and on the internet about what mental health was and how support could be accessed. And additionally, teachers and youth workers highlighted the fact that they knew mental health issues were widespread among young people but they were simply not equipped to offer support.
Using this as a basis YMCA proposed a Mental Health Champions project that had three interconnecting strands:
- Peer support programme in schools and the community – led by young health champions and designed to improve awareness and de-stigmatise mental health issues.
- Key adult education and awareness workshops – aimed at teachers, youth workers and parents to help them offer support to young people affected by poor mental health.
- Counselling service – offered to those young people who need more professional help but do not reach the threshold to access CAMHS services.
It is fair to say that the programme has been hugely popular in the three areas in which it has been delivered (Norfolk, East Surrey and Worcestershire). Normally, you are delighted when a service you offer is in demand. Schools, community groups and health professionals have all taken advantage of the programme. However, this demand has shone a light on the scale of the problem and you can sense the almost desperation of those working with young people who are trying to find services that can help.
The delight of having a successful service is replaced by a sobering reality that there are tens, if not hundreds of thousands of young people out there who need support.
This need is showcased in some of the project outcomes. Our funding required us to deliver mental health awareness sessions to 600 young people; the service delivered to 4,000. The proposal said we would work with 90 key adults; in the end 370 attended our education workshops. And we committed to offering counselling sessions to 300 young people; but at the final count we had worked with 337 and the project had to stop accepting referrals two months before the planned end of the intervention.
Looking forward, what we have also achieved is to create resources that can help other YMCAs deliver Mental Health Champions programmes. Workshop plans, presentations, costings, project plans, promotional templates are all in place and ready to go. Of course, there are other mental health interventions already being delivered by YMCAs and, with their local connections and partnerships coupled with our obvious link with young people, YMCA is the perfect delivery agency for these types of services.
While we know there is an unfortunate need for programmes like Mental Health Champions we can take some comfort that 90% of those accessing our counselling service reported reduced distress levels; 100% of adults taking part in our education sessions felt better equipped to help their child or pupil; and 83% of young people in our workshops reported better understanding and awareness of mental health issues.
YMCA remains committed to delivering projects that provide the platform for young people to belong, contribute and thrive in their communities. If you are interested in either delivering or commissioning an impactful, youth-focussed mental health programme then please contact myself. Together, we can support even more young people that we know are out there and looking for help.
Words by Graham Oatridge, YMCA England Health and Wellbeing Contracts Manager