Monthly Archives: August 2015

Protecting Children

abused-boy-350 This week, I’ve been reflecting on children and those most vulnerable in our communities. On Sunday I was speaking to a young boy who told me it was his birthday the next day. His shoes and clothes had holes in them. He told me he wanted to jump off a tall building and die because his life was so hard. I later wrote an article for The Guardian about the closure of a charity called Kids Company. The charity worked with vulnerable young people like this boy, but had to close last week, mostly because of funding.

Around 6,000 children who used their services, now have nowhere to go. The life line it provided to so many children has now been taken away and it’s closure is going to be very painful for those left behind. When leading A Way Out, the charity I started in my twenties, I had to make the difficult decision to close services. We provided drop in centres, youth clubs, creative programmes, counselling, therapies, meals and mentoring. We worked with women and young people, many of whom had been through some kind of abuse, neglect or trauma. The damage they’d suffered didn’t happen overnight. Change didn’t happen overnight either. Addiction was common place, as was self-harm, eating disorders, homelessness, unemployment and family breakdown. We needed to help people rebuild their lives piece by piece. We played a vital role in changing communities and breaking the cycle of addiction, poverty and abuse. Closing any part of this, is terribly hard to do.

There are some amazing community projects and charities all across Teesside and I’m worried some of this work is also at risk. Play projects, young carer support, foodbanks, recovery services, counselling, youth clubs, sports clubs, acting schools, elderly care and so much more are ran by the charity sector. Many of them need more funds than what they have to keep going. Those that have relied on short term government funding are particularly vulnerable, not knowing year to year where their next grant will come from. I want to look at how we protect and support them. Local government are facing huge cuts because of the aggressive deficit cutting programme being imposed by central government. As their money gets less and less, the amount of money that can be given to the voluntary sector also gets less. This worries me. These services are too precious and too important to cut or cut back on.

We sadly need charities more than ever as life gets harder for the most vulnerable. There are too many people, like the boy I met on Sunday who are really struggling. Across Teesside we need to use our voices, finance and time to ensure the services that help them, continue. We must also put political pressure on those making decisions to think twice about the level of cuts needed and where they are being made. Just because children can’t vote, it shouldn’t mean they don’t have a voice. Let’s stand with them and say “no more”.We must stand up to government and make it clear, if we can’t trust them with our children, we can’t trust them on anything.

Speaking About Mental Health

tarrantLAST week, a few of my friends and I took part in the Youth Speak charity campaign, “WeRallbananas”

The campaign aims to raise awareness of mental health issues and help young people to share their experiences and advice using the hashtag #weRallbananas. My friend Laura Degnan who is behind the campaign told me “It’s a tongue in cheek way of highlighting that everyone will be affected by mental health issues in some way at some point in their lives.

I liked the idea. Far too many people suffer in silence around issues of mental health. To have a mental health issue can still be seen as taboo. Yet the majority of us will be affected by it, in one way or another. 1 in 4 people will suffer some sort of mental health disorder in their lifetime. So with mental health issues being so commonplace, why do people still struggle to talk about it and get help? Most of us would have no issues going to the doctor when any other part of our bodies doesn’t work quite right. Yet we still feel ashamed when it’s our mind that’s not fully healthy. This needs to change. There should be no shame at all to admit we have mental health issues or concerns. It is normal. We are all bananas. The more we can acknowledge this, the more likely it will be for people to speak out, to get help or advice.

Mental health concerns like any other health concern should not be neglected. I’ve had times in my life when I’ve needed to stop, to acknowledge my mind and emotions weren’t in the best place and do something about it. The worst thing I could have done at those times was just keep going and pretend everything was ok. You can’t run on a sprained ankle for ever. You need to give it time to heal. The mind is no different. Healing can take many forms, rest, relaxation, talking therapies, behavourial therapies, counselling, medication, diet. Once we get help and advice, we can find the best way to manage our mental health.

That’s why I got involved in the campaign; to encourage people with concerns to speak to somebody. The idea is to flood social media with positive messages and good advice for mental health – by writing them on bananas, taking a selfie with you and your banana and posting it on social media. Even Chris Tarrant has been getting involved.

If you want to get involved too, simply write your best bit of advice on a banana, take a selfie and post it to Facebook, Instagram or Twitter using our #weRallbananas hashtag and the message ‘My good advice 4 #weRallbananas. Visit http://www.youthspeakmh.com. Txt donate MSMD10 £2 to 70070.’ Then nominate others to do the same.
If you are someone who has a concern about you or someone else’s mental health, speak out. Don’t be ashamed. You are not alone. You are normal. We’re all bananas.