David Blunkett MP visits Right Here Sheffield

7 June 2013

Callum Woodhead–McClaimens discusses David Blunkett MP's visit to the Right Here Project in Sheffield to discuss the need for early intervention support to protect young people’s mental health:

"I've had some negative experiences with education that ironically, have taught me a lot. With this in mind I wasn't likely to turn down the chance to attend a meeting with David Blunkett, given his involvement in education, education, education. I don't know a great deal about modern politics, and my feeling of disaffection towards the current government is probably shared by many people of all ages. I know everything I hear in the news seems to be about taking money and facilities from the most vulnerable people, and that not a single politician cared one iota about me until the day I became eligible to vote, when I received a letter telling me how valuable I was now that I could vote. It seems clear that people are only valued as tools to gain and retain power in modern politics, not the people who should be served by the people they vote for.

"With this in mind, I was pleasantly surprised by how engaged in what we were saying David Blunkett seemed when he arrived at the Right Here Sheffield HQ on Division street. There was a genuine sense of interest in the project, and in any way to help young people get through tumultuous times in their lives. When it came my turn to talk about my experiences and difficulties with the education system I had plenty to say. Blunkett had asked me what had gone wrong, but that he wasn't looking for my life story, so I summed it up as succinctly as I could: I'd been expelled, I'd been given bad information, I'd suffered from anxiety and depression that lead to me losing a big chunk of time that should have been spent passing GCSE's, been given more bad information and ended up washing my hands of any kind of education aged sixteen and with two GCSE's. NEET!

"However he seemed to feel like I'd left him on a cliff hanger, as it was 2010 when I'd given up on education and the future and things had obviously moved on since then and the story wasn't over. As the first part ended at rock bottom, it makes sense that the only way for the story to go after this was up. As I'd never really told the whole story from expulsion (2008) to today, it had never occurred to me exactly how relevant my getting involved with the Mental Health Ambassadors part of Right Here Sheffield was. The start of things looking up in my life and my mental health was the day I went on the first Mental Health Ambassadors residential weekend. Meeting new people in my age group who'd also experienced mental health issues showed me that it wasn't something unique to me. It showed me that having a mental health isn't always a bad thing and it showed me that poor mental health is nothing to be ashamed of, and that keeping it a secret or denying it is one of the worst things one can do.

"Blunkett had an impressive knack for picking up on things that had only been briefly mentioned, and recognising their significance. When I spoke about being expelled and taken away from where my friends were, he brought it up again later, as relationships with peers and teachers can easily affect anybody's mood and wellbeing. Mental Health Ambassadors provided a rare opportunity to form new relationships with people who have experienced things other members can relate to. The importance of realising you're not the only one to have mental health problems can never be exaggerated. The Mental health Ambassadors' role has been to raise awareness in young people in particular, which meant going and talking to people in colleges. As I'd previously sworn off any contact with anything related to education, going into colleges was a big step. Over time everyone who continued to be involved with the project gained some level of confidence and understanding. My positive experience had reached its peak on the morning of the Blunkett meeting, as I'd been accepted on to A levels at Hillsborough college. There's little more reward the Mental Health Ambassadors could give me now, so what of the future?

"The conference is approaching, which will give Right Here Sheffield a chance to show off all the things it has achieved over the past couple of years, which should impress upon commissioners the importance of young people's involvement in mental health services, and show them how necessary early intervention support and education on the subject really is, so young people are never left confused by what is going on in their lives. The Mental Health Ambassadors will find a way to translate the successes - the people - into something we can showcase to an audience so hopefully this invaluable project can get the support everyone present at the meeting agreed it deserves.

"In the more distant (but ever nearing) future I hope my involvement in trying to remove stigma around mental health can carry on when I begin A levels, and maybe I can draw some attention to the subject in one way or another. Right Here will hopefully have a lasting impact, as evaluations have shown things like Building Bridges, Cage The Rage and other projects have helped many individuals massively. Thanks David Blunkett for listening so intently and thanks Right Here for being right here.