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Mental Health Journalist of the Year: Winner

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Youth Response to the Mental Health Crisis

Shreya Nivarty, Tonbridge Grammar School

As I walk into the Swale Room, nestled on the ground floor of County Hall, Maidstone, I am met with a bustle of young people, scoffing Jaffa Cakes, and youth workers distributing pens and firing up laptops. Differing in ages, stories, and backgrounds, but with one common goal: to improve mental health for all young people. This is the Mental Health Campaign Group in the Kent Youth County Council.

The campaign group has enjoyed many successes recently – most prominently the launch of our Mental Health Friends Handbook. This is a handy little purple book that has been ordered in the tens of thousands across Kent, England, designed by a handful of Youth Councillors, including myself, over months of meetings, held in our beloved Swale Room. Serving as Vice Chair for this project, I saw firsthand the drive of these young people. So many of us had been through mental health problems that tried to break us down repeatedly – and here we were, with one simple response to it: fight back. The pandemic was a shocking insight into the failures of mental health services, and isolation from peers and increased anxiety has caused 80% of respondents from a YoungMinds survey to state that the pandemic worsened their mental health. Putting the clench in our fists and the grit into our teeth, we put our heads down to change this.

I’m certainly no stranger to the effects of the pandemic on mental health. Throughout lockdown, I crumbled under depression. A previously social “gifted kid”, who had dreams of becoming a politician, the loneliness took over. But through hours of therapy and honest conversations with myself, coinciding perfectly with the lifting of lockdown, I pulled myself back up, dusted my knees and kept running. However, I noticed the pandemic had left its mark on many other young people. I knew firsthand the mental health services in the UK could not cope with the aftermath. Something needed to change. So I decided to step into a world I had only dreamed of entering previously – the political sphere.

I stood for KYCC in 2021 on a manifesto promising to work on mental health. At the first meeting, I made a beeline for the MH Campaign Group, diligently taking minutes. Having also been elected as Member of UK Youth Parliament, I vowed to use my 2-year term to make tangible change. Currently, the group has made solid plans to release a podcast for parents, and I’m proud to be serving as Chair. Kay (Vice Chair) summarises it perfectly: “I feel like we have really great ideas and can bounce off each other to create solid plans,” she enthused, continuing, “I cannot wait to see what we can accomplish together!”

All of this is to say, to quote Juice Wrld (a big mental health advocate), if I can, then you can too. There are so many things you can do to make a difference. Every part of the UK has a MYP – find out how you can stand. Lobby, write to your local decision-maker, even just send a tweet! Mental health is a dark subject – but I want my article to highlight the positivity that comes out of the young people it affects. Let’s stand up against poor mental health.

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