The Tower Hamlets Mental Health Ambassadors programme is a collaboration between Spotlight, the Tower Hamlets Education and Wellbeing Partnership (THEWS), and a group of local young people who are committed to creating change to the provision of services for their peers in the borough. This collaboration started in 2020, and sessions continue on a monthly basis at Spotlight. Ultimately, the programme aims to create a two-way street between young people with an interest in or a lived experience of mental health difficulties, and professionals working with young people in the borough – either as youth workers or healthcare professionals. We aim to listen to young people and change our practices, and in turn upskill, empower and develop young people to be able to create positive change within their communities. Key successes within the programme so far have been an introduction to the group of the KOOTH service, discussions about stigma, and presentations from the group on the intersection of culture and mental wellbeing.
This programme is important for many reasons. Despite being faced with multiple endemic mental–health related challenges, Tower Hamlets is entering an exciting phase where young people are starting to rally around one another, and speak up about the challenges they face individually and collectively in relation to mental health. It’s important to capture and channel this energy into a place where it can create genuine and long-lasting systemic and societal change. Creating a structured opportunity for young people to do just this, on their own terms, and in an environment such as Spotlight where they feel comfortable and empowered, is vital if real change is to be created for the future.
Tee, 21, is an alumni of the Mental Health Ambassadors programme:
I joined the Tower Hamlets Mental Health Ambassadors (THMHA) programme because, as someone who experiences mental health difficulties, I know how important it is to shed light on the topic. I’m extremely passionate about this area and think more people should be too. Particularly after the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, young people are discovering that they are experiencing various levels of mental illness such as depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder; and do not know where to turn to or what resources are available to them as restrictions ease.
During my time on the programme, along with other young people of various ages, I participated in conversations about mental health provisions for young people in Tower Hamlets within educational institutions and beyond. We spoke about things that are working well as well as how things could improve for young people. This opportunity to scrutinise the work that is being done for young people’s mental health allowed myself and my peers in the MHA team to voice our opinions and ideas in a space where we knew we would be heard.
As an alumni of the programme, I was invited to co-present (along with fellow alumni Shaw ) at the ‘Every Chance for Every Child’ forum in early January, which was chaired by Tower Hamlets Councillor Asma Begum. At this event, I spoke about my personal struggles with mental health and how it affected my integration with my community growing up due to the stigma that still surrounds this issue. I also had a chance to highlight my difficult transition from NHS Child & Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) to local adult mental health services. I found that it was particularly difficult due to the lack of signposting and information about support I could receive after I turned 18.
I think programmes like the Tower Hamlets Mental Health Ambassadors programme are very important for young people as they provide a platform for young people to speak openly about mental health; networking opportunities with like-minded individuals and an opportunity to change how services are delivered in Tower Hamlets.
In the future I hope to see local institutions that interact with young people doing more work to eliminate the stigma around mental health both among young people and in the wider community. Mental health is a huge part of our lives, and if more effort is put in towards raising awareness on the topic, hopefully the future is a little brighter for the next generation.
Image credit: Tanika Ali. Langdon Park School Year 10