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Maintaining good mental health can be a struggle for any young person, but for those facing homelessness the challenge is even more daunting. 

Our counselling service, anger management and communications skills workshops are a crucial part of the work we do to help young people improve their lives. To mark Mental Health Awareness Week 2016 we spoke to our on-site counsellor Pauline about the support we offer.

 

What are the factors that lead to homeless and vulnerable young people experiencing mental health problems?

A key factor is family breakdown. Whether a young person has left home by choice or been thrown out, they’ve been separated from their family before they’re really ready to live independently, and this produces pressure around how to create their own support structure.

What are the most common mental health issues faced by the people you work with at New Horizon Youth Centre?

A lot of them are the result of the anger that is generated by the collapse of the family, at treatment they’ve received in the family or responsibilities they’ve had to assume. Often there are issues such as parental mental illness which have led to a lack of care for the young person.

The theory around anger is that it either explodes or implodes, so people can either become quite violent, at least verbally, in expressing anger, or it turn inwards and leads to depression. Both are issues for most of the people accessing New Horizon, and for those whose anger turns inwards suicidial feelings are quite common.

Another reason suicidal feelings are so common is because, especially if you’re rough sleeping, it’s very hard to feel that anybody cares. If that develops into feeling that you have no hope of your circumstances changing or achieving your goals, then it very easily leads to thoughts of suicide.

How does New Horizon's work address these problems?

When we talk about counselling it’s crucial to see it as one part of the service, I think everybody at New Horizon contributes to young peoples' mental health, even a member of staff saying “hello” or remembering  their name, to know that they matter to another person is crucial.

A lot of my job is keeping people going, keeping them alive until they’ve taken a first step, and can experience some form of change. Especially if they can be aware of their own input, whether that’s keeping appointments or making their own phone calls, they can see what they’ve contributed to their own change process.

A contradiction can be that some people with the hardest childhoods are the most ready to cope with independence because they’ve built up tools – however these are not always the healthiest tools, so there’s often a need to develop those.

What changes would you like to see in the way we as a society deal with young people’s mental health?

The first principal we should always use is to respect young people, I think we don’t always do that and it can add to the trauma of childhood because we don’t take them and their feelings seriously. If I was designing the school curriculum there’d be a lot of focus on self-development and self-awareness, and I think we could do a lot more to prepare people for parenthood.

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