New youth group helps young people cope with stresses of the day

July 19, 2018   By Councillor Jenny Bullen, Portfolio Holder for Children and Young People’s Services, Wigan Council

It can be challenging to be a young person today. The issues causing stress amongst our teenagers range from community to community. We’ve learned that young people involved in our youth justice system are often witnessing domestic abuse at home. We’ve seen an increase in young people from our LGBTQ+ communities and young women developing body image issues. Young people who have come to the borough from different countries can struggle to adjust to our sometimes very different culture and experience frustration as they try to do well at school despite language issues, cope with sometimes significant drops in family income and deal with traumatic experiences they may have experienced or witnessed.

These issues can lead to bigger social problems if left unchecked; young people can start to repeat patterns of domestic abuse as they get older or find themselves in abusive relationships, body image issues can lead to eating disorders, which can be complex to treat and difficult to undo. Self-harm is often used as a way of coping with stress.

Economic difficulties mean that there is an increased pressure on all young people to do well in education and go on to get good jobs but also reduced opportunity for young people to go on to higher education to help them to achieve this. Social media magnifies everything, including bullying, and the desire to be accepted and liked, which leaves young people often more susceptible to peer pressure whilst struggling to achieve the often false realities presented by their friends.

Young people tell us that professional mental health support is offered when they reach crisis point or following a medical diagnosis but we wanted to do something to reduce the number of young people reaching that point.

That is why I am so pleased that our newest youth group to launch in Wigan Borough, Mind Power, aims to help young people cope with the stresses of daily life.

In Wigan, we made a commitment to young people through The Deal, an informal contract between the council and residents, that if they were willing to share their views with us, we would listen to them.

And young people have been telling us that they need some extra support.

They have told us this both informally through our young people’s groups and more formally, through the annual Make Your Mark survey where mental health has appeared in the top three issues raised by young people year on year. Just under 15,000 young people in Wigan Borough voted in this survey in 2017.

Mind Power helps young people to develop their confidence and resilience so that they can learn to cope with smaller issues independently. The programme behind the project is based on one recommended by mental health charity Heads Together and promotes healthy eating, exercise, relaxation, the importance of friendships and being kind and the opportunity for young people to speak with professional adults about anything that might be worrying them.

Similar projects to promote confidence and create spaces for relaxation are also being run within many of our schools and youth groups.

It’s a simple concept and too early to measure the effectiveness, but we’re hopeful that it will help at least some of our young people to develop the skills they need to prepare them for the future.

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