Youth Work Changes Lives

Community based youth work is recognised as a powerful asset for Scotlands young people. A diverse and innovative sector that meets young people where they are ‘at’, youth work provides positive and empowering opportunities and relationships that improve life chances, reduce health inequalities and are a game-changer for many young people across Scotland. (Rachael Hood, Mental Health Foundation)

This year, in partnership with NHS Health Scotland, we sponsored Scotland’s first ‘Mental Health and wellbeing’ award at YouthLink Scotland’s National Youth Work Awards 2018 to recognise the power of youth work when it comes to helping young people to stay mentally well. NHS Health Scotland's Carly Grant wrote a blog about the award and the event. This will be the first of the four-part blog series #youthworkchangeslives

And the winner is…a mentally healthy Scotland  

In this, the year of young people, NHS Health Scotland (where I work) are proud and excited to be co-sponsoring (with the Mental Health Foundation) YouthLink Scotland’s first ‘Mental Health and wellbeing’ award. It gives a crucial opportunity to specifically recognise and celebrate the power of youth work in supporting children and young people to stay mentally well. 

The winner was announced at the YouthLink Scotland’s National Youth Work Awards on Thursday 15 March. We were delighted to be part of this fantastic event and saw it as a great opportunity to raise the profile of the powerful role that youth workers play in supporting children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing. 

Youthwork is a diverse and innovative sector; providing positive and empowering opportunities and relationships, and safe spaces, where it’s ok to talk about how you feel. Youthwork improves life chances, reduces health inequalities, builds resilience and changes the lives of many young people across Scotland. 

The Public Mental Health team at NHS Health Scotland have been working on prevention and early intervention on children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing. We have spoken to many people from different sectors and services working with children and young people to do this.  What we have heard is that there are key ingredients to good mental health and wellbeing at a preventative and early stage for children and young people. These include: quality relationships, community based supports, non-clinical settings to discuss and explore mental health and wellbeing and support for young people at times of transition. Youth workers do all of these things.  It is important to recognise this and the role they play in promoting and supporting children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing, simply by doing what they do best - building trusting and supportive relationships. 

At the YouthLink conference in November 2017 NHS Health Scotland and the Mental Health Foundation asked over 100 youth workers some questions around children and young people’s mental health. They told us that ALL youth workers felt their work had an integral role to support the emotional, social and mental wellbeing of children and young people. Eighty six percent of youthworkers said they felt that their work supports young people to explore and practice ways to stay mentally well. And this supports what we know from the evidence to be true; that children and young people live within networks of support, and when things are tough and they are not feeling good, they benefit from different supports, at different levels and delivered in different ways. Youth workers are a key player within this network of support when it comes to children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing. 

We’re in a time when we hear concern about children and young people’s mental health and the level of provision of specialist supports. And this support is, and always will be, an important part of supporting people to be mentally healthy.  However, there are things we can do at a preventative and early stage to protect and promote children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing. Youth work is a fantastic example of the power of quality relationships, and safe and convenient spaces where young people can talk about mental health in an open and supported way that puts them at the centre.  I strongly believe that the impact youth workers make on young people’s mental health and wellbeing is incredible; and it is time to celebrate this!  

We wish the winner huge congratulations – and to the runners up and all youth workers – well done, it has been an exciting and inspiring process to be part of.  We look forward to working with YouthLink Scotland in the weeks and months ahead so that we can continue to work together and keep our young people mentally well and well supported!  When it comes to being mentally healthy #YouthWorkChangesLives. 

Carly Grant is a Senior Health Improvement Officer at NHS Health Scotland.

You can read more about the work of NHS Health Scotland here and you can tweet us @NHS_HS