Lewisham Youth Conference to tackle mental health issues

Attendees and volunteers at the Lewisham Youth Conference 2016. Pic: Lewisham Youth Conference 2016

When more than 1,000 young people from Lewisham come together for a special conference in New Cross on April 1, mental health will be firmly on the agenda.

Not only will the event – the Lewisham Youth Conference (LYC) – tackle lighter topics like the arts and entertainment,  it will also delve into serious issues that are affecting the borough’s youth such as the stigma surrounding mental health and housing.

Ben Joyce, who helps organise the event, told Eastlondonlines: “There are a lot of prevalent issues in Lewisham’s young people like mental health and housing. LYC aims to cater the event to the most prominent problems in the borough at the moment.

“It’s not that all youth are homeless, but we want to help them take that next step. We also want to teach people about the stigma surrounding mental health. People need to understand that this covers a lot of issues, including anxiety and depression. We want to teach young people about this, even if it is just how to deal with the pressures of say an exam, it is not a weakness.”

The LYC– which is being funded on Space Hive and has already raised £7731 –  is backed by some 50 local businesses and will be held at Goldsmiths. It aims, charity organisers Elevating Success say, to celebrate the: “many successes and achievements that go unnoticed”.

Joyce agrees: “The event is about encouraging young people in Lewisham to be doing positive things instead of roaming the streets. We want people to think about employment and prospects for their future.”

But mental health issues are never far away.

Around 36,000 people aged between 16-74 are thought to suffer annually from a mental health condition in the borough, according to Lewisham JSNA.

The report also states that is has been highlighted as a national and local priority and the rates in the borough are higher than that of London, and England, averages. Most mental health problems occur before adulthood with over 50 per cent of lifetime diagnosis’s able to be made at just the age of 14, it is therefore crucial to inform young people of this.

Kiki Bustos, a youth wellbeing volunteer trainer at Lewisham charity Mindkit told EastLondonlines: “Teaching young people about mental health is incredibly important and valuable. There are many young people experiencing difficulties with their mental health that could be prevented with more awareness and understanding about how to look after your emotional wellbeing.

“Along with education, positive personal stories of successful recoveries and examples of how people manage their mental health difficulties whilst being able to live fulfilling, meaningful lives are key to reducing stigma and improving wellbeing,” she added.

Karen Whitelaw of Youth Access told EastLondonlines:  “We really believe an awareness needs to be known and we want to centralise our focus on mental health, not young people they are not the problem. So often the youth are seen as the problem.

“Early intervention and teaching can all help to prevent and stop major mental health problems. We have done studies and we understand mental health and young people. We consider each person differently as a whole and not a number though, it is so important to realise that being young isn’t the issue here.”

Elevating Success, based in South London, was established in 2007 and the organisation works with around 1,400 individuals per year. It aims to empower and engage people from more deprived areas of London, including Lewisham, Lambeth and Croydon.

The charity has worked with vulnerable families, young offenders, children from disadvantaged backgrounds and offer them advice and training.

Taylor McGraa, social programme co-ordinator at Goldsmiths, where the event is being held, told EastLondonlines of its importance: “It is absolutely integral for university institutions – such as Goldsmiths – to use their resources to connect with local youth groups.

“We live in one of the most deprived boroughs in London, but too often we turn a blind eye. The benefits of organising events between the university and the local youth are infinite. By connecting disadvantaged kids with a university environment, we dismantle the idea that education is inaccessible to marginalised groups.”

To help fundraise for the event or for more information visit: https://www.spacehive.com/lyc-2017


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