Freedom of Mind Conference – Part 1

Monday saw the final event in the Freedom of Mind Festival calendar, a one day conference discussing young people’s mental health. This wasn’t necessarily about illness and the point at which young people need mental health services but mental health in general. Ensuring young people are mentally well so that less young people ultimately need mental health services.

I was keen to attend this from the moment I first saw it announced, yes I am ;no longer even close to qualifying as a young person but I grew up in mental health services and am still there now almost 30 years on starting when I was nine. I’ve experienced most of what they have or have had to offer over the years. I know what CAMHS (Children’s and Adolescences Mental Health Services) was like even if I don’t know what it is like now and I know what it feels like to be a child using that service.

The festival opened with a reassuring welcome from Grace Jeremy who is a local mental health activist, a young lady I always find extremely enthusiastic, open and inspiring she got things off to a great start by starting a Mexican wave around the room before introducing Clare Campion-Smith, who is Bristol’s Cabinet Member for People who talked about the stigma around mental health and how when she was young there was the same stigma around cancer so change can happen.

Ella Marshall the festival’s Founder and Katie Finch the Managing Director then spoke about how Freedom of Mind was founded over coffee one day, and what their vision is. There are a couple of inspirational things I took from this. Ella was 16 when she came up with this idea and they started working on it, she’s 17 now. Their whole team is made up of young people, nearly all of them volunteers, they were able to get some really influential people on board in spite of their age and inexperience.

Their vision for Freedom of Mind is:

  • Conversation
  • Education
  • Change

Next up Viki Browne performed her award winning play HELP!  I had heard of the play but had not seen it. Viki had shortened the 60min play to a 20min extract for the conference and it was outstanding. The way she portrays panic and anxiety is fabulous. She gets laughs from the audience but if you’ve been there and know the feeling you know instantly what is happening despite the laughter and fun. I will definitely keep an eye out for her performing the full show.

We then split into groups for workshops. I was in a group with HYPE which is a Barnardos’ youth participation project to ensure young people are involved in the decision making process with CAMHS. It was really interesting hearing them talking about how they liaise with CAMHS and hearing the young people talk about their involvement. I was also really impressed with how they managed the workshop, especially given the young age of most of the people leading the group.

Dr Simon Newitt, CEO of Off The Record talked around the socio-political issues affecting mental health. He talked about how a decade ago nobody talked about mental health and how now there is an influx of stories about it online but they are of an overwhelmingly negative nature and they are point to the solution being more mental health services, but he challenges this idea. He discussed how there are socio-political answers to many stressors and we should be looking at fixing these before just outsourcing everything to mental health services.

I found what Simon had to say very interesting as this is something I wholeheartedly agree with. I think there is a lot in the world around us which causes stress, and always has been, and we are not equipping young people to be able to deal with this stress correctly.

We then split into groups again for another workshop. I was in the Laughter Workshop with Michelle McMorrow. I’ve never done anything like this before (honestly, I’m the kind of person who’s pretty much run and hid from anything like this) but it was doing various improvisation techniques in the group. They were silly and funny and they got the whole group laughing. Once we got over the initial “oh my god what are we doing” they were actually quite fun and despite my initial hesitance I really enjoyed it.

So this is the end of Part 1…. Check back in a few days for Part 2!

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