Young people use mental health experiences to shape advocates project

Group of young people with experience of the mental health system are supported to recruit and train a network of youth advocates who ensure children can access local wellbeing services.

Name Our Minds Our Future

Provider Youth Access

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, co-ordinated 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 Our Minds Our Future campaign was born after a series of events and consultations led by young people. 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" in November 2017 with senior NHS decision-makers. Through discussions and activities, the group decided on a 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". To build the campaign arm of the Make Our Rights Reality movement, Youth Access recruited a steering group of 10 young people to set the direction of the campaign.

Through a series of residential weekends and virtual meetings, the steering group has worked with Youth Access staff and specialist trainers to develop 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.

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 teams of "rights advocates" have been recruited. These young people are trained to understand their rights and supported to identify the levers for change in their local mental health system. Youth Access 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 co-ordinated social media takeover days, contributed blogs, short stories and videos for the web and social media and met with MPs to win campaign endorsements.

With the project now fully established the steering group has disbanded. However, 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 to even greater success.

Young People's Views

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 able to talk about my own experiences without fear of stigma.

"It's validating just to know that there are other young people around the country having similar experiences and struggles, but it's even better to be taking action 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."

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