Changing minds about teenage mental health
Mental illness doesn’t discriminate - it affects us all. Part of the problem is that we don’t like to talk about it, especially with young people…
On 4 July this year local charity Wimbledon Community Theatre Trust (WCTT) brought together 500 young people from across our borough for the very first Merton Healthy Minds Day at New Wimbledon Theatre. It was a day of theatre, dance, photography and film - all made by and for young people. As well as the performances the audience also took part in discussions, workshops and Q&A sessions with guest speakers from local mental health services, including Stem 4, Off The Record and HealthWatch Merton.
The day was the culmination of six months of work by our artistic team in Merton schools. With support from senior teachers, over 150 pupils volunteered to take part in the project and from the very outset we were determined that young people themselves would be right at the heart of the project. Our aim was to provide them with the support and information they needed to give voice to their own feelings about mental health, how it was perceived and how it had affected their lives.
The seven groups looked at different kinds of mental health issues and talked about the pressures they felt at school, online and in their home and social lives. They also decided together what messages they felt were most important in order to “change minds” about mental health.
The pieces they created were first shared within their school community as part of National Mental Health Awareness Week in May - followed up by workshops and school assemblies exploring the issues raised, meaning that in all over 2500 young people were involved in the debate.
Finally we “brought it all together” on the main stage at New Wimbledon Theatre - our main partner in the project and a valued supporter of our charity’s work.
It was an inspiring day. All groups presented their work to their peers and answered questions about the stories they had created and the message they wanted to put across. The message was very clear and simple: we need to talk more and judge less. As one student said after seeing a performance, “Mental illness is not a joke. We need to take mental health more seriously. I will not forget this!”
WCTT is grateful to Wimbledon Foundation and the Steel Foundation for their financial help with this project. For more information about WCTT and the work it does with young people in our community, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
All images by Andy Barker.