June 19, 2019

Young people use mental health experiences as “Rights Advocates”

Kahra Wayland-Larty

In this article – originally published in Children and Young People Now Magazine – Our Senior Policy Officer, Kahra, explains how young people have built Our Minds Our Future from a set of concerns about the mental health system to a fully fledged campaign demanding our right to better care.

Our Minds Our Future is a youth-led campaign fighting for young people’s right to access better mental health support. 

The campaign forms part of a wider programme called Make Our Rights Reality, coordinated by Youth Access. From small group training on everyday issues like housing and benefits, to building a big collective movement around the right to mental healthcare, the programme combines education, advocacy and social action to empower young people to use their rights to challenge injustice. 

The real expertise on the issues in the mental health system came from those young people on the frontline of the mental health ‘crisis’

The Our Minds Our Future campaign was born after a series of events and consultations led by young people. In the months leading up to November 2017, Youth Access supported a group of young people with diverse experience of the mental health system to design and facilitate a “Mental Health Takeover Day” with senior NHS decision-makers. Through discussions and activities, the group decided on set of core demands, focusing on access to services, appropriate funding and the transition from children’s to adults’ services – which became the foundation for the campaign. 

It was clear from the Mental Health Takeover Day that the real expertise on the issues in the mental health system came from those young people on the frontline of the mental health ‘crisis’. And so, to build the campaign arm of the Make Our Rights Reality movement, Youth Access recruited a steering group of ten young people to set the direction of the campaign. 

The first steering group at our first campaign planning session

Through a series of residential weekends and virtual meetings, the first steering group has worked with Youth Access staff and specialist trainers to develop the initial ideas from the Mental Health Takeover Day into a fully-fledged national campaign.  

Rather than a simple top-down mobilisation, the group wanted to offer more young people opportunities to get trained, build skills and take on leadership roles in the campaign. 

Rights Advocates have coordinated social media takeover days, contributed blogs, short stories and videos for the web and social media and met with MPs

It was decided that a distributed, localised campaign would be the best model to build this national movement of empowered young people. To do this, the group decided to recruit teams of ‘Rights Advocates’. These young people are trained to understand their rights and supported to identify the levers for change in their local mental health system. The Make Our Rights Reality team is now supporting Rights Advocates in seven areas around the country to develop persuasive messages and impactful actions to grow the campaign both locally and nationally. 

So far, Rights Advocates and steering group members have coordinated social media takeover days, contributed blogs, short stories and videos for the web and social media and met with MPs to win campaign endorsements. 

After a year of hard work, the original steering group have handed over the reigns to a new group, who’ll lead the campaign over the next 12 months.**

The Make Our Rights Reality team at Youth Access will be looking to improve its approaches to youth leadership and scale up the role played by young people in leading Our Minds Our Future to even greater success. 

What young people say: 

Natalie Spence, a steering group member said:  

“Joining the steering group and going to the very first residential I felt totally overwhelmed. Lots of the group had amazing experience of campaigning and I wasn’t sure what I had to offer. But through training, being supported by the staff and the amazing bond that we’ve built as a group I’ve grown to believe in the importance of bringing my voice to this project. My experiences are my expertise – and with the right support, I can use them to make a change for future generations.” 

Kirsty Wilson, a steering group member said: 

“At the start I was dreading doing anything related to public speaking. Now, I feel so much more confident and able to talk about my own experiences of mental health and the system without fear of stigma. I’ve led meetings, put my thoughts across and even spoken to whole conferences of people!  

“It’s validating just to know that there are other young people around the country having similar experiences and struggles in the mental health system, but it’s even better to actually be taking action together and feeling part of something bigger. The fact that, thanks to our work on the steering group, other young people, just like me, are learning about their rights and feeling empowered to stand up for them is an amazing feeling.” 

This article was originally published in the print version of CYP Now magazine. A PDF of the print version can be found here.

**The article has been edited from the original version in CYP Now, which stated that the steering group had “disbanded” after establishing the project. There is, in fact, a new steering group, consisting of eight more young people who will continue to set the direction for the campaign for the next 12 months.


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