Embedding youth social action to support mental health and wellbeing

Today is World Mental Health Day 2018, a day where we will hear from people and organisations all around the world about their own mental health stories, and what they are doing to make a positive difference to the lives of those coping with mental health issues.

Today, young people’s voices will be a critical part of the discussion, as they talk about the well-heard, and the newer challenges young people face when it comes to mental health and wellbeing in 2018, and help shape solutions to these challenges for their generation.

We know mental health and wellbeing is a key issue for our young #iwill ambassadors, and for #iwill partners. You only need glance at our #iwill ambassador page to see a plethora of young people who care passionately about mental health, and speak eloquently on the positive effect their participation in social action has had on their own mental health, and the wellbeing of others. Just take a look at Naomi, Aimee and Alex, or Gordon, Jade, Jamie or Sarah to name a few!

We already know that involvement in youth social action can not only improve young people’s mental health and wellbeing, it also brings positive benefits to our communities – which can both directly and indirectly improve the mental health and wellbeing of others.

Evidence from the National Youth Social Action Survey consistently shows that participation in social action has a positive association with improved life satisfaction and wellbeing. The Behavioural Insights Team’s randomised controlled trials showed that participation in social action could reduce anxiety by a fifth. Research from Defra and the University of Exeter shows that exposure to natural environments, for example through environmental social action, can reduce stress, anxiety and depression.

There are many examples where youth social action is improving the wellbeing of others. At Northumbria NHS Foundation Trust, young people are befriending socially isolated older people; Fixers empowers young people to campaign and run projects on the issues that matter to them- many focus on mental health; and Middlesbrough Football Club are supporting young people in primary and secondary schools to create programmes to raise awareness and promote positive mental health in their communities.

So, as I leave you with this rap (created by young people in Nottingham on how volunteering has helped their mental health), I would encourage you to think about how embedding youth social action can be part of the solution to young people’s mental health and wellbeing challenges. It ensures young people’s voices are heard, their character and skills are developed, they are offered insights into different careers, their peers, families, and communities benefit from their social action, all the time whilst supporting positive mental health and wellbeing.

Psychological Soldier: A rap created by young volunteers at the Community Recording Studio in Nottingham, showing how volunteering has helped them improve their mental health.

Emma Sims, Senior Campaign Officer: emma.sims@stepuptoserve.org.uk