Thursday, October 15, 2015

Inspirational when it comes to mental health - love it!

John Brunswick, Health and Wellbeing Programmes Manager at YMCA England, talks about how innovative mental health services across YMCAs are helping to transform the lives of hundreds of vulnerable, young people…
  • YMCAs are working to support people diagnosed with mental health issues across England.
  • Mental health can be a ‘hidden disability’ and people are often not aware that someone needs help or support.
  • Tackling mental health can be a daunting prospect, especially for the young person involved who might not know where to turn – that’s where YMCA can help.
  • YMCA runs a range of projects to support people with mental health problems, including the inclusive OnSide sports project and our Mental Health Champions programme.
In my role as Health and Wellbeing Programmes Manager, I have the honour of visiting a number of local YMCAs and seeing what is happening “on the ground” all over the country. It’s all really very interesting, however, there was something I witnessed on a recent trip to YMCA North Staffordshire that proved to be a little bit, well, different (even by YMCA standards).
For on my visit there I was greeted with two things: firstly, there was the amazing sight of a group of young people with a range with disabilities all taking part in an archery lesson. Gainfully led by a dedicated member of staff, it was clear the group was having a great time in a supportive, safe and, as you would expect from YMCA, fun environment.
Secondly, there was also another group of eight young adults playing badminton as a young lady in sportswear viewed from the fringes. Aware of how tough it is to fill a sports centre midway though a working week, I felt obliged to ask the Activity Centre Manager just how it was possible to be so busy. His reply was simple: “Because that’s a mental health intervention group”.
I spoke further with the manager that day and found out that this group comes weekly to the centre giving our young people the chance to do an informal, fun activity, fully supported by staff. No pressure,  no previous experience or skill level needed, just come and take part and have fun. But what is really special is that these staff organise the session and they also normalise the activity so that when the young people finish the programme they feel more comfortable in similar social environments, wherever they may be.
It has been said that mental health is a “hidden disability”, which means it can sometimes be difficult to know if someone needs help or support. I spoke to the young lady in sportswear at the centre that day and found out that she is actually a nurse and present at the club to support the young people who are playing. It is partly because of YMCA that these groups are able to exist.
In addition to the badminton, the group also organises a yearly football event for other early intervention groups. Although it can sometimes be hard to put a team together as the young people can relapse, it is still a very special event to witness, particularly when volunteers from YMCA stop what they’re doing and come down to help. It is this extra effort that really helps the young people to feel more comfortable because they are seeing staff and vounteers they see every week, giving up their time to come and help.
Taking the first step to addressing mental health can be a daunting prospect, especially for the young person who might not know where to turn.
YMCA knows just what a huge issue this is for young people and is proud to be delivering programmes such as those above, both as part of its core delivery and also with partner agencies. So whether it is a badminton session, a discussion group or an Inclusive OnSide sports afternoon, we make sure that the right service is in the right place to support those who need it most.
For more information on mental health services provided by YMCA this World Mental Health Day, visit: