I’ve always had an interest in people and behaviour, which led me to studying psychology at the University of Liverpool. After taking a particular interest to clinical psychology and mental health, I extended my degree to a fourth year, integrated masters in clinical and health psychology. In this year, I did my research dissertation on the association between childhood adversities and affective disorders, looking both at major diagnostic categories as well as symptom domains. From this, I had a specific interest in mental health and young people, and wanted to gain experience working in this area. Fortunately for me, Naomi advertised the Neuro Champions programme via the University, so I contacted her to get involved as a facilitator.
The first sessions were held with targeted youth groups across Liverpool. This was my first direct experience of working with teenagers, but the environment was friendly and relaxed and although I was initially a bit nervous, there was an easy flow to the sessions. The content of the sessions was well received, the young people were really interested, and this had a positive impact on their engagement, making my job much easier. In addition to this, the youth workers from this group were really enthusiastic and got involved in the session, which helped with the more reluctant or quieter young people, and after a few sessions, everyone was participating and getting involved. I really enjoyed the fact you could visibly see the young people learning and taking the information in, quite often they’d express how they had shared information from the sessions with friends and family. You also saw a clear development in the ‘check in’ exercise at the beginning of each session where we ask them to describe how they’re feeling in their head, heart and body, with the initial responses being ‘fine’ or ‘okay’ and as the sessions continue they give more detailed and thought out responses.
A lot of the young people asked me about university as they knew I was finishing my final year. I think being based on a university campus was really inspiring for some of the young people. This was echoed after the first session when we had feedback from the youth workers that some of the young women were thinking about university having not seriously considered it previously.
Running the sessions in schools was very different to with the youth groups, and we learnt some valuable lessons from these sessions, in particular, that smaller groups of people of the same age work best. What I found most rewarding about working in schools was the environment that was created by encouraging the young people to speak their mind and ask questions. The timing of when we were in schools coincided with exams period (which is something to avoid in future sessions), but because most other lessons will have been structured learning on how to pass exams, the young people really valued having a space where they were encouraged to be creative. It was challenging to be adaptive and flexible whilst also getting the content across, however, you could see the information had been taken in through the media development sessions. As with the youth groups, it was very rewarding to see the young people taking in and learning the information. It took a little longer for them to engage, possibly because an initial meeting to discuss the programme is needed, but by the third session the young people were involved and participating and you could see genuine interest from them.
Since having the role as Project Coordinator, I have gained lots of insight, skills and knowledge. I’ve learnt a lot about social media and using it to promote businesses, and have had the experience to go on training to further this knowledge and understanding. I’ve also had a first-hand experience of working with young people, some of which have mental health difficulties, which has solidified my interest and aspiration to continue working with young people and mental health. I’ve gained more awareness of group dynamics, there have been some groups that have been more behaviourally challenging, and being able to understand the different group dynamics has helped in tailoring the sessions to fit the groups individually. This has also meant that as facilitators we’ve needed to be flexible and adaptive, and whilst I typically like structure and routine, I’ve seen how this is really important for working with young people and getting the most out of the sessions. Reflective practice has been encouraged throughout, and at the end of each session we discuss what went well and what could be improved, this helps both with personal development as well as the development of the programme. Finally, I feel I have grown a lot in confidence as I’ve had a lot of new experiences and opportunities which I wouldn’t have otherwise had. I have thoroughly enjoyed the initial steps of the project, learning new skills, developing as a facilitator and providing help and assistance to our cohort of young people.