Years of physical and online bullying at school left Kayleigh with severe depression and spiralling anxiety.

“I felt completely isolated, but at the same time being alone seemed safer and I didn’t want to risk trying to build any friendships,” she explains. “I was stuck in my bedroom every day after school and I withdrew completely. All I wanted to do was sleep.”

Persistent visits to her GP finally resulted in a referral to CAMHS who were supportive but unable to continue helping after Kayleigh’s eighteenth birthday.

“I was desperate to find a supportive friendship group outside of school when I heard about WAVES,” she says.

WAVES is the YMCA East Surrey youth group which aims to provide a positive space for young people aged 13-19 to be able to talk about mental health and wellbeing, create supportive friendships and engage in fun and thought-provoking activities and campaigns.

“I struggled with my first WAVES session,” says Kayleigh. “I was so used to putting up walls and pretending that I was OK. Communicating with people felt impossible.”

YMCA WAVES Coordinator, Ella Sowton, says: “When Kayleigh realised that everyone in the group had often felt the same way, her defences began to break down.”

Emergency COVID-19 relief funding from Comic Relief helped us move the whole WAVES service online during lockdown. We created a private social media group for young people to engage with each other, daily videos on mental health and wellbeing topics, one-to-one supportive chats with youth workers and daily Zoom group sessions which offered fun social activities.

“I had to care for family members who needed to shield,” says Kayleigh. “I was scared, stressed and having regular panic attacks. When the online sessions began, the relief was huge. It felt like someone was there for me every single day.”

Ella says: “Kayleigh’s blossomed since she’s joined the WAVES group and she has developed a passion for helping others. It’s wonderful to see how her independence and confidence have grown. Kayleigh has helped shape WAVES’ online services and we are grateful for everything she’s done.”

YMCA East Surrey is currently collaborating in the development of a new Emotional Wellbeing Mental Health service in partnership with other charities and organisations which aims to shift the power and choice from professionals towards children, young people and families.

YMCA Manager of Emotional Wellbeing and Mental Health, Sarah Kenyon, says:

“We want to make access to mental health support easy and intuitive for all. It is vital that all organisations work together to transform relationships across the different services.”

“I believe things happen for a reason,” says Kayleigh, “and I hope that my mental health journey will enable me to help others through similar issues in the future.”

“The day that I came to WAVES, everything changed for me. It was like a new chapter opened up in my life.”

Read more about WAVES youth clubs