Blog from a youth worker: why is youth work excluded from the mental health debate?

31 Jan 2017

A few thoughts from a new youth worker about the recent announcement from the government on young people’s mental health by Korina Tsioni

It was announced that professionals in formal education will receive support in order to tackle mental health issues in young people’s lives. I see this as a positive step by the government as talking publicly about such issues can only trigger further discussion around the taboo subject of mental health. However, there was an important detail missed out. The announcement excluded youth work from any such support ignoring the contribution that youth workers make.

Youth work is there for young people: to free them; to support them and to help them achieve their goals.

Youth workers can provide a more creative environment than schools as they approach things in a different way. The environment they create inspires young people to express themselves more openly. In turn this open and welcoming approach helps youth work recognize symptoms of poor mental health. Youth workers can then more effectively refer those in need to professionals like psychologists and psychiatrists.

Most importantly youth work can help to prevent poor mental health by encouraging self-esteem and emotional wellbeing. It can help recognise and understand bullying and help young people gain skills and confidence. It is a youth worker’s duty to equally involve all young people regardless their skills, mental health, cultural or background.

This is why youth work should not only be supported around mental health, but should also be consulted as it carries wisdom gained after years and years of hard work with the excluded, the forgotten and the left out.

We should remember that youth work is on the front line now more than ever. Youth workers still carry the responsibility of face to face work with the most vulnerable, difficult to engage and disadvantaged young people. They quite stubbornly keep on reaching out to the ones hidden, the ones who recent announcements and new measures ignore more and more.

This announcement made me think that once again we chose to focus on a specific group of young people and we avoid unity; the past has taught us nothing about working inclusively, to face the problem collectively and to move forward in our thinking. I believe that youth work is needed in schools more than ever, instead of being left out of the Education System, exactly like the disadvantaged young people it supports.

Korina is a qualified youth worker at the National Youth Agency.