#speakup4youth

Please join me on Twitter every Wednesday 1-2pm GMT for the hashtag hour: #SpeakUp4Youth

I decided to start this hour to provide a bit of time out and space to discuss our perceptions of what is happening to young people right now. There is a lot to think about and debate, from youth social action in the refugee crisis, through to worrying issues with employment rates and mental health.

It’s about time that we gathered around to talk through what is empowering young people but also the elements that are creating real issues in their development and impacting on their life chances.

All discussions are welcome, the only rule is that these help to promote their interests and highlight the positive aspects of their generations and what they have to offer the world.

Please do follow me on Twitter and DM me if you have any suggestions for what you would like to see included. Or you can comment below…

THANK YOU!

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Fixers

Grief is something we all have to face at some point in our lives.

Both of my parents have already passed away. My Mum had just turned 62 when she died. I was 32. My Dad died three years later – he had just turned 70. At the age of 35 I found myself without either of my parents – the people who had brought me up and taught me more or less everything I know about how to live my life and how to treat others (they did a great job of this bit, which is good).

My journey through this grief has been difficult. But then I always try to remind myself that many, many others have been through the same experience or are currently right in the middle of this. It can also be very frightening – terrifying almost. When someone you love dies, it can feel like the world around you has fundamentally changed. Nothing can be the same again. Nobody tells you about the fear element. I have experienced panic attacks, but I am slowly starting to feel better. Of course, that is the most frustrating part, knowing that grief can not be hurried to its resolution. There is no ‘fast-forward’ button.

Grief sucks

Finding a positive outlet for grief is really important.

Considering how devastating and turbulent this can be, it is pretty amazing that a younger person can actually get through this, can keep functioning in life and move on. As an adult, I would like to think that I would do anything I could to help someone in this position to go through this journey, to feel supported and cared for.

A month or so ago, I came across an amazing youth charity called Fixers. Winner of Best UK Charity Project of the Year 2014, they have a very specific focus: to help young people develop a project that makes their voice heard on a matter that is very personal to them – something of which they have had a specific experience. It’s about empowering them to find a solution.

Through this, I found out about Gennifer. Gennifer’s friend sadly died of cancer when she was just 15. I can’t imagine how hard this must have been for her. She decided to do something about this experience, to help others. Fixers stepped in and helped her in her determination to set up an online resource for young people who have been bereaved: the SOAR website. I think she is amazing.

soar website

The site aims to help young people feel informed and supported. It is also useful for parents, other family members and teachers – to encourage them to have more patience and understanding in supporting someone who is going through this, especially when dealing with the demands of study, exams and other stresses.

Crucially, Gennifer found that there was little advice or information available to her at school and in other settings and that made it harder for her to admit she was struggling to cope. I imagine many young people have been through a similar experience.

On her website, she offers 5 key tips that I think are crucial to remember if you are grieving:

  • Don’t bottle up your feelings. It can be a great relief to talk to someone about how you are feeling.
  • Know that there isn’t a time limit on mourning. Bereavement can affect you for any length of time, some people only take a few months to grieve, where others may take years.
  • Take time out for yourself. It’s not selfish to want to be by yourself sometimes to gather your thoughts.
  • Don’t compare yourself to others in the same situation! People experiencing bereavement learn to grieve/cope in different ways, it’s okay not to feel the same as someone else does.
  • It’s alright to move on with your life and be happy. Don’t feel guilty about moving on with your life and being happy. It doesn’t mean you’ve forgotten about your loved one who has passed away, it just means that you can finally accept what has happened. They would want you to continue your life.

I asked Gennifer how this work has helped her, this is what she said:

 “Working with fixers to create a bereavement support website for young people really helped me put in to perspective everything I had dealt with and overcome. It allowed me the opportunity to turn a life changing event in to something positive through helping and offering support to other young people who were dealing with similar situations to myself”.

Gennifer Graham

Gennifer’s story has inspired me to write this blog post and to share more about myself than I usually would have done. And for that I would like to thank her.

One of my close friends sent me a greetings card this week. The cover is plastered with pictures of girl superheroes (and some female baddies thrown in too!). Inside she wrote: ‘You are a superhero… so don’t forget it’.

Gennifer – you are a superhero too… never, ever forget that.

I think Fixers are an amazing charity. If you would like to find out more about their fantastic work, please have a look at their website.

If you are grieving at the moment, here is something that may help.

grief

Quotes via whatsyourgrief.com

Please look out for any young people you know who may be going through a loss. Let’s support each other.

I recently wrote a post in memory of my Dad and how he taught me to be enterprising in my approach to life. Please check it out.

 

Inside Out

For many years, I have been a great admirer of how storytelling can help children and youth cope with different life events and the entangled emotions these can throw up. Pixar is just about to release its newest and frankly, most brilliant example of normalising the ups and downs of everyday life. ‘Inside Out’ is about an eleven-year old girl called Riley and the various feelings within her that control her behaviour: Joy; Sadness; Fear; Anger; and Disgust. Reviews have suggested that it’s a joy to watch.

Above all, I’m hoping it will become a catalyst for positive discussions about mental health.

Inside OutInside Out

*Reviews of ‘Inside Out’ in Grazia and Empire.

More than anything, this movie is saying that it’s ok to have a variety of different reactions inside of you, battling against each other in your head. Everyone has that, they just don’t often discuss it. This is paramount, in a society where mental health is such a taboo topic, where parents would rarely admit to anyone that they are struggling with their thoughts, let alone their own children. These films can reassure people when they are grieving. Experiencing a loss can be hugely devastating when you are still developing and already struggling with the various aspects of your identity.

When I lost both of my parents, (I was in my 30s, still am), it wasn’t the adult-based dramas and classic epics that I took solace in, but the child-driven narratives of younger films. ‘Harry Potter’, ‘The Lion King’, ‘Up’, all have a great deal to tell us about death. These stories tell us that people most definitely do die, but wonderful things happen too.

Most importantly, they suggest that sometimes life is a struggle, but it is for adults as well. There is no need to feel alone in your feelings. Just like our conflicting emotions, we are all in it together…

Where is all the angry, raw, edgy music? This is a common discussion in my house. The Who’s headline set at Glastonbury last night reminded us that  a whole generation of disenfranchised young people were given a voice, by four teenagers who were sick of being treated like second class citizens…and we are still listening to them now. Their lyrics still carry meaning and a sense of urgency.

BBC 6 Music Maximum R&B: the birth of The Who

Of course, not everyone will agree with me on this as there are many different music movements out there, many being spearheaded by teenagers. My issue here is that many of us do not get to hear this music as it never becomes mainstream…record companies do not appear to be signing these bands and giving them the platforms they need.

These days have gone, but youth can still make a difference
These days have gone, but youth can still make a difference

Pete Townshend has been vocal about his choice to respond to feeling misunderstood and lacking in control over his life when he was younger. He felt there needed to be a response that demonstrated that youth have something to say. They do matter. 50 years on and we appear to be on a similar situation, with quite a lot of dissatisfaction with life and a real sense of a lack of opportunity for our young people.

Music is a great form for expressing opinion, for creating an outlet for feelings and perhaps most importantly…being heard. Townshend has also stated that he was afraid he would get arrested for being so outspoken about his generation. But he did it anyway.

This is why arts-based projects are so important. Young people are able to gain confidence by learning new skills, such as DJ’ing, producing, acting etc, but are also given permission to tell us how they are feeling. When we are anxious or worried, we are always told that it’s good to talk about your feelings – to get them out of the open and into the conscious part of your mind. So why aren’t we encouraging more young people to do the same?

Further reading:

Why do old musicians always think the kids have lost their way?

BBC Playlister: the birth of The Who

Imagine you are a teenager today, trying to work out what to do with your life.

Parents and friends are asking you “what do you want to do?”, “who do you want to be?”.

You want to find work that you will enjoy and also generates a decent income…

But consider this:

-University may not an option because this would leave you in debt until your children have grown up and left home

-there aren’t any local jobs near you unless you count service work and zero-hours contracts

-you can’t afford to buy your own home and will probably have to live with your parents until you are in your early twenties

-even if you find a place to rent, you won’t be able to get housing benefit if you are looking for work and claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance

-you can’t even afford the bus fare to attend job interviews

-people tell you that you are lazy and have no imagination or creativity

Feeling stressed?

Such uncertainty can start to negatively impact on young people’s day-to-day lives and their emotions. It can create an unsettling feeling as well as difficult questions such as: “where am I going?”, “what is going to happen to me?”. Stress can easily snowball into more generalised anxiety if it’s not appropriately addressed. Depression is on the rise amongst teenagers in the UK – the number of children aged 15-16 with depression nearly doubled between the 1980’s and 2000’s*.

Support services are being cut and health services are over-subscribed. We have a duty to young people – to help reassure them about the world, to help them understand that they do have a future and that it is out there somewhere.

It’s important that young people are told that these thoughts and feelings are normal and that stress can be a factor of modern life. Mental health is not discussed in schools in a comprehensive and positive way. This needs to change. It is important to include stress and anxiety within the context of key transitions such as leaving education and moving away from the family home.

We have a responsibility, let’s face up to it…

Further reading:

Youth Employment UK’s campaign to improve employment prospects for young people: YEUK calls on the Conservative government to work for young people in the UK

YoungMinds blog: why mental health should be talked about in school

Article from The Independent: This is what young people have to say about David Cameron’s plan to cut housing benefit for under 21 year olds

References:

*Nuffield Foundation (2013) Social trends and mental health: introducing the main findings. London: Nuffield Foundation (via YoungMinds).