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Participation in action: talking about mental health

The following post is written by Selwa who is an Anna Freud National Centre Young Champion involved with our participation and outreach activities.

It’s been a busy few weeks for Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families’ participation steering group. Earlier this month, on World Mental Health Day, I joined some of the group at City Hall and more recently headed to Camden for a Real Talk event. Both were thoroughly enjoyable events that I’m keen to share with you.


World Mental Health Awareness week was created in 1990 to help educate and increase understanding about mental illness. I believe that there is a lot of misinformation and stigma around mental health, so I am a huge advocate of the campaign. Last Monday, myself and two other young people involved in participation work joined the Centre Officer, Nicholas Morgan, for a special themed event at City Hall.

Many organisations came together to give 5 minute talks on their different roles and how they are getting involved with improving mental health nationally. We heard some amazing talks from companies such as MAC UK; Pop ‘n’ Olly; St John’s Ambulance; CYP IAPT; Time to Change and plenty more. Some speeches were heartrending, as they spoke of their own experiences having a mental disorder, while other speeches gave an insight to how their project teaches young children ‘You are Beautiful’. I feel that we as a society don’t hear this enough, so as a message to the reader of this blog: YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL!

Myself and two other Young Champions took to the stage to speak about our work with the Centre. Although I was extremely nervous speaking in front of so many people, the atmosphere was friendly and warm, which made it much less frightening! During our short speech, we outlined on-going participation projects at the Centre, one of which was our audit reviews, where we interview members of the Centre to find out where participation is successful, where we can improve and how we can remove any barriers that might make participation difficult. Later on this year, we will also be inviting 30 young people to be involved in contributing and developing participation across the Centre.

We also helped run a stall detailing the Centre’s work, I was happy to see people signing up to find out more about our participation work and I see true potential for further involvement in the future. Aside from the stalls, there were many works of art on display. A favourite of mine was a knitting piece, which reflected on the artists’ struggle with depression. I loved how each bead, button and string had an emotional meaning to it- for example, clear buttons symbolised the artist’s tears. I believe that expressing yourself through art can be self-healing, so I was glad to see the creativity and thought-provoking pieces.

Being involved with this event pushed me to step out of my comfort zone and be inspired by the wholeheartedness and passion that people have for spreading awareness and lifting each other up through tough mental difficulties we all face.

The Camden Real Talk event continued this theme on the 12th of October, involving the youth in a debate about mental health. I was proud to see many young people taking part in a discussion about understanding what mental health is, how we can remove stigma, and where we can receive support if we find ourselves going through difficult times.


There were about 50 young people and adults at the debate which was introduced by speaker Remel London who asked: 'What does mental health mean to you?' Throughout the event, I heard many intelligent answers, and was glad to see that people my age were so passionate about this topic. Following the debate, a guest singer and poet K Tellz performed a moving spoken word piece about her struggles with mental illness and we also saw the X Factor band Rough Copy perform their songs.

Participation to me means teamwork: involving as many people from different age ranges and backgrounds to gather all kinds of opinions, ideas and thoughts to create better services, more understanding and a sense of togetherness. It can help us become more open-minded by sharing stories and recognising that mental health affects us in different ways, and highlighting that we can reach out for help when we need it most.