Peer mentor programme aims to bring mental health from out of the shadows

London charity will recruit peer mentors to support young people with mental health problems to gain confidence and life skills.

Provider Fitzrovia Youth in Action

Name Mental health peer mentors

Discussing mental health can be a taboo subject for many children. To help encourage young people to talk more openly about mental wellbeing, a London-based charity has created a new programme to match those with mental health concerns with older peers.

Organisers Fitzrovia Youth in Action (FYA) hope the project will not only address young people's mental health concerns, but also help build their resilience and confidence. In addition, mentors will gain valuable leadership and problem-solving skills.

Funded by Camden Council, the programme will see Mind in Camden provide training for young people recruited as mentors, while mentees will be referred by the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust.

Abbie Mitchell, FYA peer mentoring manager, says that the goal is to "strengthen peer support" and tap into "that culture that young people can talk to each other about challenges that are going on".

She adds: "It's about helping to get rid of the stigma as well by promoting these kind of conversations."

Since the project was launched on 10 October 2017, World Mental Health Day, young people have been consulted about the project, and, alongside Mind in Camden, helped develop mentoring models and techniques that will best support mentees.

Since January, FYA has been working with schools and youth groups to recruit young people as peer mentors. Once trained, mentors will be matched with a mentee two years younger than them and deliver six mentoring sessions.

"They will work on using tools to support their wellbeing and explore what tools they might already have," Mitchell says. "They might set some goals around different areas of their lives and build up their resilience together."

Mitchell says that during the programme, mentors and mentees will use workbooks with resources and activities in them. They will also use techniques linked to the Five Ways to Wellbeing, an approach developed by the New Economics Foundation. These are: "connect" (building and improving relationships), "give" (volunteering), "be active", "take notice" (being more mindful and aware of surroundings), and "learn" (developing interests).

At the end of the programme both mentor and mentee will reflect on what they have learned and how they can continue to use the skills in everyday life.

Although some young people involved might have mild mental health challenges, the service is for everyone and Mitchell says that the six-hour training programme and will benefit the mentors as much as mentees.

"They will speak in the language they understand and older young people can reflect back to what was going on for them when they were younger," says Mitchell.

Emolios Lemoniatis, consultant child and adolescent pyschiatrist at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust, says he hopes that 80 peer mentors will have been trained, 160 mentees engaged and more than 480 sessions run by the end of the year. The project will run until October 2019.

The project will build on an FYA project in which young people were trained to spot signs of addiction and substance misuse among peers.

My View: Janelle

"Peer mentoring is an amazing programme. It not only benefits the person being mentored but also the person doing the mentoring, and it helps them to learn about mental health in depth.
"Helping out with the recruitment process and hearing the plans of the interviewees made me even more determined to join the programme once it got started.
"I feel that this will actually make a big difference - especially in school around how different year groups communicate. I think that is a very positive thing."

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