Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Being one of the Queen’s Young Leaders: the power of sharing personal experience.




- Nicola Byrom

Last week was exhilarating, exciting and empowering. I spent the week with amazing young people from across the commonwealth. We were bought together through a celebration of the work that young people are doing to improve their communities in countries from Namibia to Vanuatu, from Mauritius to Sri Lanka. These people, may I call them friends, were working on many varied projects; for example, Barkha Mossae advocates for Small Island Developing States and encourages young people to take an interest in the state of the oceans, Nosipho Bele runs an education programme in called Mentor Me to Success and Salman Ahmad co-founded the GADE Foundation to encourage young people to become more involved in enterprise. We shared one thing in common; a fundamental belief that if you want to see change in the world, you need to roll up your sleeves, get stuck in and make it happen.

The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust, Comic Relief and the Royal Commonwealth Society bought us together for a week in London to help us establish a long-lasting network of support around the commonwealth and strengthen our leadership skills to give us the confidence, knowledge and enthusiasm to tackle new challenges as our work develops. Over the week I met Her Majesty the Queen, quizzed David Cameron about early intervention for mental health, took part in an amazing leadership training programme at Cambridge University, visited the Royal Society and the Commonwealth Secretariat, and talked about mental health in the LGBTQIA+ community at the Metro Charity on the day that USA supreme court ruled that same-sex marriage is a legal right! For me the week achieved all it set out to do, and much more, but more than anything encouraged me to reflect again the way we talk about mental health.

I was the only Young Leader working explicitly on issues of mental health. I spoke with many Young Leaders from countries where disclosing mental health difficulties may still mean complete social exclusion. I was startled to learn that many of my new friends look at the UK for an example of how society and health services need to treat mental health. Our responsibility, in the UK, to normalise conversation about mental health, stretches far beyond our own shores: the world is watching and waiting for a viable template.

I spent the week talking about the work that Student Minds does and about why it is important to give students the skills, knowledge and confidence to talk about mental health. I also spent the week listening. In every conversation I heard the same pattern of response. Everyone had a thought or experience to share about mental health; they had or were struggling through their own difficulties, they had friends or family who had experiences difficult times or they recognised the impact that stressful environments have on their own mental wellbeing. These were quiet conversation, elicited because my confidence in talking about my own mental health difficulties, said “it is okay to talk about this.” These conversations reminded me that while we need to shout about mental health from the roof tops and bold examples of personal experience from respected celebrities, we also need to listen. Sharing personal experiences of mental health difficulties can create space for others to fill.

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