Lancashire school pupils to be pointed in the right direction for mental health support

Young people across Lancashire who are in need of a listening ear could soon find it in the most unlikely of places – the school toilet.

By Paul Faulkner
Wednesday, 11th March 2020, 7:56 am
Updated Wednesday, 11th March 2020, 7:58 am

Young people across Lancashire who are in need of a listening ear could soon find it in the most unlikely of places – the school toilet.

Or at least that is where they will see a poster pointing them towards the support they might be seeking if they have found themselves in a time of a crisis.

The idea was generated by school pupils in Wyre and has proved such a success that it is now set to be rolled out to every corner of the county.

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Chris Smith and Simon Crabtree with the mental health poster designed by young people in Wyre (pictured in 2018)

Young people will be able to find details of organisations that can offer help with a range of issues, especially those which can affect their mental health.

Nathan Halford, from Garstang, was the town’s youth mayor when the project got off the ground two years ago – and it was personal experience that prompted him to ensure that teenagers had somewhere to turn to when they needed it most.

“I sadly lost a friend who took his own life around that time,” recalls Nathan, who is now 18.

“I wish there had been someone for him and others like him to talk to when they were in need. A lot of young people keep things on their mind and don’t get it off their chest.”

Nathan Halford wants other teenagers to have the support he was looking for after the loss of a friend

The sense of shock caused by his friend’s death left Nathan himself in search of support – but looking in vain.

“It was a few days before my birthday when it happened and it hit me quite hard. But there was nowhere I could really turn to during that grieving period

“There was a group of us who got the bus to school together in Lancaster and it was so sad,” adds Nathan, who is now head boy at Ripley St. Thomas CoE Academy in the city.

He says that his involvement in the project made him realise how many organisations exist to help young people – not just those who may be contemplating taking their own life, but dealing with all kinds of “hard times”.

The poster will soon appear in school toilets across the county

The support services on offer vary from one part of Lancashire to another – and now that the poster is to be seen beyond the borders of Wyre, local versions will be created containing the relevant numbers for each district, as well as the standalone council areas of Blackpool and Blackburn.

But for Cleveleys East county councillor Andrea Kay – who spearheaded the original scheme in Wyre and put forward a unanimously-supported motion calling for it to be extended across Lancashire – the most important thing about the poster is where it is placed.

“Someone suggested putting a page on the council website – but how many young people look at that?” County Cllr Kay asked at a meeting of the full council.

“The school noticeboard? But if you went over to [look at] the poster, would friends not be saying, ‘What’s up with you – what’s going on?’

County Cllr Andrea Kay: "Nobody should suffer alone.

“The young people said they wanted to get the information in private where nobody is listening. So we decided on the back of the toilet door [and above the urinals] in every high school.

“You go there alone and you can get that number, so in your hour of need you can make that call. Every young person in Lancashire matters – nobody should suffer alone.”

The decision not to design something more digital than a poster for such a tech-driven generation was another deliberate attempt to embed privacy in the process of seeking support. The young people involved concluded that anybody searching for advice because they were being physically or sexually abused by a family member would not want their online history to reveal that they were trying to get help.

For Mid-Rossendale county councillor David Foxcroft, who seconded the motion to expand the scheme, the need for somewhere to turn is one to which he can relate from his own teenage years. He told fellow members at County Hall that he went through a tough time at secondary school after realising that he “didn’t like girls”.

“We have been incredibly fortunate in how much our country has moved forwards over recent years and how we are more accepting, tolerant and understanding – but there is still a long way to go.

“Every single child [should] know exactly where to go, so they do not have to continue to suffer alone, [with] nobody to tell them that they are normal – because actually normal does not exist. So whatever you are, it is absolutely normal – and you are 100 percent unique, valued and cared for as a person in our society,” County Cllr Foxcroft said.

Mental health was ranked as the most significant issue for secondary school pupils in Wyre in 2018 when the community interest company UR Potential carried out a consultation to discover the aspect of young people’s lives which they most wanted to improve. It was the outcome of that survey which led to the creation of the focus group that came up with the idea for a support services poster.

Chris Smith, a youth coach for the organisation, says the rest of the county’s young people are likely to share similar problems two years on.

“The group we worked with ranged from 12 to 17 years of age and they all had the same concerns – mental health was raised constantly,” he recalls.

“I’m massively proud of them to have created such a great project from scratch and one which has now been taken up by the whole of Lancashire.”

Simon Crabtree, one of the Wyre teens involved in the original initiative, said at the time the poster was designed that “if just one person uses the contacts on it, then we have done our job”.

With the group’s work now poised to be plastered across the doors and walls of school toilets throughout Lancashire, that ambition looks likely to be far exceeded – giving pupils who go to spend a penny,the chance to find support which is priceless.