At school, I was a Community Prefect, where you'd go around at lunch times, and sort of see if everybody's okay, and nobody's alone. And if someone was upset, you would go and talk to them. One day we got an email about YPAG and I remember opening it, and I was like, 'Oh, this sounds really interesting. This isn't something you would hear about, just normally. This is like a once in a lifetime opportunity so I'll just apply and see what happens from there’.
And so I applied, and then found out that I got it. So that made me really happy because what I knew about the YPAG was that you learned about mental health, ethics, and how research is done. You don't usually think about research, like what happens in it, you don't really understand how long it actually takes, why it's done. Being in the YPAG has now made me realise all of that.
I was fourteen and a bit nervous. I will admit, my confidence wasn't as good then. I feel over the last two years, I've gained a lot. Now I will sit and tell people what I want to say. They like to get young people involved because they want to hear their voices and their opinions on things, because they’re that older generation, they need a younger generation’s opinion.
One of the most meaningful projects that I was a part of was learning about how anti-depressants can change young people, and young people’s views on being told that they need to go on anti-depressants, and what might stop them. To be a part of that research, you either had to have been on anti-depressants before or know somebody on them. I actually suffer with depression and anxiety myself, so I'm on anti-depressants, so I was like, ‘I'll join it’. And when I was a part of it, it made me understand a lot more about anti-depressants, about things that you don't actually get told when you're getting put on them, you go into proper depth.
The other project was quite recent actually and we're still working on it. We look at the Childline message boards that people write on. We were given different subjects, categories to look at on the Childline boards and mine was ‘abuse’. We had to find different threads - like short threads with no replies, medium threads with one or two replies and long threads. And then we use the Help Seeker Model, to see where they don't realise that they need help or understand what's going on. Or at the other end of the scale is when they do realise they need support, and what support there is. So we had to put the people that were writing for help where we thought they were on the scale. And then we had to look at the replies, and see how they would impact the person because some of the short threads didn't have any replies. And then we had to think, ‘Well, that would make the person feel like nobody cares or relates to their situation and it could make matters worse’, whereas you would look at the long threads and there would be loads of replies with the person that originally wrote it replying back. Then you've got a sense of someone who cares there. And it's seeing how it impacts you differently, like having no replies or loads of replies.
We had different views to the older generation because we're a similar age to the children writing. If you're in your thirties, or forties and looking at it, you might not necessarily understand. It was quite emotional in a sense, because you're understanding what people are going through and it's not nice to hear. But then you have to think that by looking at this and doing this, you're helping Childline make a change to help young people that are experiencing this to get the support they need.
It made me feel really happy to be a part of something like that. Because I know I'm making a positive change that’s going to help other people in the long term. I feel like it's positively impacted my well being as well as my mental health. Because I've struggled with depression and anxiety myself, it's sort of given me the sense that I'm not alone. It was an eye opener for me.
In the group you just feel really supported, that there's someone out there that wants to hear your voice and wants to hear your opinions. I feel really connected to the other YPAG members, because obviously, they were sharing experiences as well. And that made me think this is an open environment where I can be myself. And it made me feel really close to them. So I felt really reassured. We feel comfortable around each other. We're just willing to talk and share our experiences, because we know we're not going to get judged or laughed at. And it's nice that it's not just me that it's having the positive effect on, it’s everyone. It makes me feel more positive that I'm also contributing to that.
I've just finished my GCSEs. And I’ve just found out I got my Apprenticeship at the John Radcliffe Hospital. I'm going to be a Healthcare Supporter. I'm going be on the Emergency Surgical Unit, being a nurse. I am so excited, because I've spent my time in hospital a few years ago, and that made me realise I want to be in that sort of environment. But I was really worried that I wasn't going to get the Apprenticeship because I've got my own problems, mental health wise. But being part of YPAG, learning about the mental health aspect, you realise that you can't NOT be included. That sort of put me at ease, knowing that I've got as fair a chance of getting my Apprenticeship as everybody else.
I always had this understanding before from social media, that having mental health problems means you can't exactly do what you want to do. So with the YPAG, I learnt that if you don't try, you can't exactly get far. So I just tried my hardest, and it worked - it paid off.
I feel like I’m a changed person, but it’s a positive change, because I've grown in myself, and found out about myself. And I've also got a better understanding of the world and what goes on in the sense of research, because research actually plays a big part in like, everything.
When I first joined the YPAG, I wasn't really sure what I was getting into. I was just like, ‘Oh, this just sounds interesting and different, I’ll just do it'. But I didn't actually think it would impact me this way or as much as it has.
You start to get a better understanding of everything. And I don’t really know how to put this, but what you're doing is a positive change not only on yourself, but for society as well.