“When I first came to WAVES a year ago, I wasn’t in the greatest place,” admits Raife, 14.
“There’s so much stress and pressure on young people that, when I heard about the group through a talk at my school, I wanted to give it a try. I felt nervous about coming along as it was unknown territory.”
WAVES (Wellbeing, Awareness & Voice for East Surrey) is our mental health support drop-in group for young people aged 11 to 19. The project provides a safe space where young people who are experiencing or have experienced mental health issues can come along and talk to staff, take part in positive activities, combat stigma and build up friendships and support networks with other young people.
“I found the WAVES group friendly and welcoming,” says Raife. “Sessions feel relaxed, the staff are always ready to listen and I’ve made new friends who really understand how I feel. It helps so much to have people there who will support me without judging.”
In February, Inclusive Youth Support Worker Ella Sowton took five WAVES members on a trip to the House of Parliament to take part in an All-Party Parliamentary Group on Youth Affairs. Raife wrote a speech, which was read by Ella, about her experiences with body image anxiety, giving her view of what she felt would help young people to overcome the problems they face.
“This was a turning point for Raife,” says Ella. “When she first came to WAVES, she was quiet and withdrawn, finding loud situations very difficult. The Parliament trip marked a tremendous change in her confidence and I was so proud when she stood up with me and took ownership of her speech.”
1 in 5 young people experience symptoms of anxiety, depression and issues with their body confidence and 1 in 10 have a diagnosable mental health issue. Our Reigate group now has an average of 11 young people in regular attendance and we are currently trying to expand WAVES to provide much needed drop-in sessions in different areas around East Surrey.
“Raife once told me that she felt there was no youth club that fitted her,” says Ella. “Now, she is a willing ambassador for WAVES, one of the leaders of our group and she fits in perfectly. Our challenge is to reach and support more young people like Raife.”
“I still have times when I get down but now there are people I can turn to,” says Raife. “It starts to get better when you know you’re not alone.”