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Naz’s story: Starting early in communities

In this story from our Thinking differently manifesto, Anna Freud Young Champion, Naz, tells us in her own words why she thinks it’s important to educate people about mental health from an early age and to focus support within communities

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My journey

I’m 23 years old and I live with my family in north west London. I’ve worked with Anna Freud in a voluntary and professional capacity for over three years.

I was 11 when I began to show signs of mental health problems. I didn’t understand what was happening - I was always nervous and quiet at school but I began to develop issues with my body image and friendships. Because I was naturally shy, I didn’t realise that these signs might be concerning.

At 13, my mood became low and by 14 I became physically unwell and missed a lot of school. My symptoms took a rapid decline at 15 when I began treatment for suspected anxiety with Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).

Giving back to my community

I often think about where things went wrong in my journey. It’s hard to know. But I believe we need to let people know from a very early age what mental health is and how to get help.

This manifesto highlights that early intervention is really important, and I agree. Schools should help pupils be aware of their wellbeing. Then children and young people can recognise when things go wrong - or when they might need professional help - before more serious mental health problems develop.

Contributing to this manifesto and being able to share my experience makes me feel good because I’m giving back to my community. But I also hope it can lead to changes. I hope people will think differently about how to help children and young people with their difficulties.

Keeping up with young lives

I am proud of who I am. My experiences have led me to develop a keen interest in mental health. As I complete my final year of a four-year psychology degree, I’m looking ahead to a career as an art therapist. I think my experience will help the people I will work with, because it’s people with experience, like me, who understand mental health best.

Young people’s mental health is continually changing - each generation will experience things differently. So as this manifesto highlights, policy and practice need to keep up.

Thinking differently – a word from Anna Freud

Anna Freud is a mental health charity and we’ve been supporting children and young people for over 70 years.

Thinking differently is our first ever manifesto. We bring young voices, scientific insight and research together to say what needs to change in the approach to children and young people’s mental health.

Our five-point plan details how we believe we can close the gap in children and young people’s mental health through a renewed focus on prevention and early intervention.

Within the second area of our five-point plan we’re calling on political parties, policy makers and funders to focus on communities by:

  • Increase funding for community assets like parks, sports centres and libraries to build support networks and improve wellbeing.

  • Expand the definition of the children and young people’s mental health workforce and increase the training and support available to workers.

  • Increase support for community-based early intervention services like Family hubs.

  • Ring-fence additional funding for community-led early interventions catered for and delivered with marginalised groups.

  • Build infrastructure to collect, analyse and act on local data about the root causes of mental ill health distinct to each community.

Contact us if you want to know more about our five-point plan.

We’re currently recruiting for new Young Champions, like Naz, and Parent Champions. Read what’s involved and check out our Participation Strategy to learn more about our commitment to meaningful youth voice.