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MY JOURNEY AS A MENTAL HEALTH ADVOCATE

Angel Hemmings was awarded the Diana Award in 2018 for her work as a mental health advocate. Here she explains the inspiration behind her project and why we should all be supporters of mental health. 

As a teenager in the 21st century, it is not uncommon to directly witness the devastating effects of mental health issues. I learnt this in the worst way when the headteacher of my secondary school completed suicide in August 2014. This tragedy sent shockwaves throughout my school community, having a tremendous effect on both students and staff, many of whom were unaware about the prominence of mental health issues in today’s society.

At the time, it seemed as if there was a lot of confusion. It was clear that we all wanted to have the conversation but many of us did not know how or where to begin. This loss, and the journey our school has gone on since, was the catalyst for me to begin my journey as an advocate for mental health awareness.

“I would like to be able to ensure every young person has the tools to help them support their own and other people’s mental health.”

I realised that the staff and students at my school didn’t know enough about mental health issues. It was clear that many young people, although very vulnerable to experiencing mental health issues at some point in their lives, were unaware of what mental health is and had many misconceptions about it. So I knew that I had to find a way to stamp out this stigma.

So in December 2015, a team of seven students pitched for a £1,000 grant at the Mayor of London’s Office to run the first student-led mental health conference in the UK. Inspired by this I joined the mental health team and quickly became the Head of Communications for the group. Our aim was to start healthy conversations around mental health as a collective of young people, whilst informing other secondary school students like us about common mental health illnesses, such as depression and anxiety.

Students at Hendon School take part in the Mental Health Conference

We ran the conference and had great success! At the conference we created a charter to outline how we wanted to improve mental health for young people in the future. This charter was signed off by Maria Kane, head of the local Mental Health Trust, allowing us to get to work on tackling mental health issues head-on.

A key goal on our charter was to introduce mental health first aid training for staff in schools. We successfully pitched to the Commissioners of the Clinical Commissioning Group for funding to help train mental health first aiders. So now, two members of staff in every school in Barnet will be trained in mental health first aid training for free. This has been pivotal in allowing staff to become more knowledgeable about combatting mental health issues in young people.

Among other activities, we also made an app called ‘Speak Out’, which educates people about mental health disorders and signposts local mental health services and websites where young people can access help.

Angel was honoured with the Jack Petchey award

In the future, I would like to be able to ensure every young person has the tools to help them support their own and other people’s mental health. We as young people must therefore do our best to make sure that there is adequate intervention to recognise needs and to prevent anyone from falling through the support gap.

I hope to continue to tackle the stigma around mental health through our SOS – Stamp Out Stigma campaign, to ensure that those who need support services have access to them.  I am a guardian of our Headmaster’s legacy, that young people can be a catalyst for change. With other young people like me driving change in our own communities, I believe we are all in good hands.

To be a Change_Maker is to stand up for what you believe in, to take risks and be an advocate for change. To not settle for the worst, but to try and fight for the best. We should all be Change_Makers.

I hope that today, as you read this blog, you will pledge to continue to do something about mental health within your own community, and that YOU will try to be a Change_Maker in your own right.

AN OUTSTANDING YOUNG PERSON FOR A 2019 DIANA AWARD

© 2016 The Diana Award. The Diana Award is a registered charity (1117288 / SC0141915) and a company limited by guarantee, registered in England and Wales number 5739137.