07 September 2021

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Due to ongoing systematic inequalities, young people from racialised communities have seen their mental wellbeing hit disproportionately hard by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mental health practitioners trying to support young people from racialised communities (communities experiencing racial inequality) often lack the required ‘cultural competence’ to understand a lived experience of racism. This can magnify existing traumas, such as job losses and educational disadvantages, which have already been heightened by the pandemic.

Thanks to funding of £650,000 raised by players of People’s Postcode Lottery, UK Youth is collaborating with the Centre for Mental Health and The Diana Award to reimagine mental health support for these young people through a new ‘Young Changemakers’ programme. The programme has been made possible through funding from the Postcode Recovery Fund, which was created to help communities recover from problems exacerbated by the pandemic.

It will see the recruitment of a group of 16–25-year-olds in England with a passion for or lived experience of mental health and racial injustice. The recruited ‘Young Changemakers’ will be given the opportunity to change mental health support for the better and affect real change. They will get involved with policy influencing, engaging and upskilling frontline practitioners, changing public attitudes, and peer-to-peer support.

Young Changemakers will be led by a group of eight ‘co-producers’ who will help steer the training and recruitment of other young people, sharing their ideas and insight in all aspects of the programme.

Lola shared why she got involved as a co-producer. She said: "I want to ensure that Black voices are amplified on the topic of our own mental health. This programme is important as it provides young Black people with a chance to discuss and plan actions for improving our own mental health in changing the way services are delivered. With all the cuts to youth services our voices have been lost and disregarded but this programme will provide the space for changemakers to express their concerns and solutions to identify the problems."

Recruitment for the Young Changemakers programme starts on 7th September, with inductions in October. Young people part of the programme will be supported every step of the way, helping them deliver projects that impact mental health promotion, protection and provision.

Ndidi Okezie, CEO of UK Youth said: "Over the past year, there has been a real social awakening to the responsibilities we all have to understand the experiences of others better. Both race and mental health have been firmly placed 'on the agenda' of critical issues; in very concrete ways. But there is still inadequate support for young people's mental health, particularly from communities of colour.
"The lived experiences and diverse cultural backgrounds of young people need to inform the services they access. Here’s where the Changemakers are required, to give young people from racialised communities a meaningful seat at the table. I’d like to thank the players of People’s Postcode Lottery for their support. Without them this programme would not have been possible."
Sarah Hughes, chief executive of the Centre for Mental Health, said: "Racism is toxic to mental health. Our research working with young people has highlighted the impact of racial injustice on their mental health and how this gets reinforced in their experiences of mental health support. We're excited to be a part of this project to put young people in the lead in challenging racial injustice and improving responses to mental health.
"This is also an excellent opportunity for racialised young people to be at the heart of research and evaluation to get a more accurate picture of their experiences. Their voices have been missing from the debate. We have a lot to learn, and we hope it will drive real and lasting social and system change."
The Diana Award's Tessy Ojo CBE said: "Whilst young people may not have been the face of this pandemic, we know they risk being among its most prominent victims, as their lives are nonetheless being changed in profound ways. Our recent survey with young people showed that two areas of concern to young people over the past year are, the increased incidents of racist bullying, with over half of young people telling us about racist incidents in their schools, and concerns over their mental wellbeing.
"This project allows us to tackle these issues by going beyond the surface and providing the support needed to help young people recover, thrive and embed the changes needed for themselves and future generations.”
Laura Chow, head of charities at People’s Postcode Lottery, said: "This project addresses the pressing need for young people's support services, which has escalated during the pandemic. Thanks to players of People's Postcode Lottery, the charity partners have the funds to make resources fit for purpose for those who need them, and drive change to benefit young people well beyond the pandemic."