Seeing beyond the label

Jamie O’Neill is roshni’s Youth Network Officer and works as part of their Youth Leadership Project (YLP).

Jamie O'Neill

Jamie O’Neill

The YLP aims to work with young people from ME communities and looks at ways to support them to be leaders within their own peer groups and develop their skills to be community leaders in their own right. The YLP is currently training and supporting young people from ME communities to facilitate focus groups as part of a consultation to establish what are the aspirations of young people from ME communities and how, they think, these goals can be achieved.

roshni is supporting young people to challenge the barriers that are forced upon them by finding out directly from those affected. What do young people think the barriers are? What are their goals and where do they seem themselves, their family and their community in the future?

There are many barriers that hold young people back regardless of which community they belong to; Unemployment, under-employment and under achievement are issues that every organisation working with young people is trying to deal with; but when it comes to ME communities, I believe that society is a long way off of doing enough to motivate and inspire ME young people.

ME Young People are more likely to; live on or below the poverty line; live in overcrowded social housing and underachieve in education. They are less likely to have the right information on Relationship and Sexual Health and to know where to go for support with alcohol or drug misuse and abuse. If a young person has arrived in Scotland as an Unaccompanied Minor, seeking asylum, they are likely to be placed in care, and that means; supported accommodation, or living with a family who has little knowledge of their religion, customs and culture, which is vital for a young person to establish their own identify. Girls, in particular, growing up within ME communities can face additional barriers with; FGM, Forced Marriage and sex education all subjects that most would never dream of speaking about with someone within their community and do not trust professionals outwith. Girls also have less information and confidence when reporting domestic abuse, exploitation or child abuse.

No one can deny that Scotland has come a long way in the past few decades in changing policy and laws to try and make sure that everyone living in our society has an equal chance; however, in practice, although we do not always like to admit it, the more ‘labels’ attached to someone, the more difficult their life is likely to be. A “young, black, gay, disabled boy” for example, is more likely to face barriers because our country still hasn’t done enough to make sure he doesn’t, nevertheless, however likely he is to face discrimination, is it right to assume that he will?

After generations of people coming to Scotland, living, working and settling here, we have not learnt lessons from the past. When a ‘new’ community is established, society puts the barriers up itself by not communicating, learning or sharing. Rumours are circulated as fact and ‘push’ new communities so ‘far away’, that they can only rely on others within their community.  It just isn’t enough anymore to label a whole section of society as ‘hard to reach’ and think that justifies not engaging.

roshni works closely with mainstream organisations up and down the country, supporting them with engaging with ME communities. Mainstream organisations cannot get to the people we get to; but why is this the case and why is it, more often than not, left for smaller grassroots organisations to use their, already stretched, resources to do vital work within ME communities? Is it because we think outside the box? Are we more flexible? Or do we actually see how working with ME communities, directly, breaks down barriers and progresses light-years with reaching equality for all?

roshni can see the enormous potential working with ME communities and through my work with young people, there is certainly no lack of creativity; will-power; imagination or passion; but there are sometimes additional needs that need to be met and people need to be supported. I come into work every day and meet and work with people who I am so thankful to be around. People who are very capable to become community leaders, and they work hard for their families and communities, which in turns makes Scotland great.

The Scottish government and larger organisations need to do more to learn from ME communities and have constant dialogue, not just as a ‘tick-box’ exercise where you find yourselves running after the same people from the same communities who want to engage. You need to change the whole structure, get to the people you think you can’t get to and let people see a real difference.

Jamie O’Neill, Youth Network Officer

Find out more about roshni’s projects and services by visiting www.roshni.org.uk

Any views or opinions expressed belong solely to the author and do not necessarily represent those of roshni

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When I grow up…..

Juliette Burton, Actress, Writer and Performer

Juliette Burton

Juliette Burton

Your best friend has just been diagnosed with a mental health problem. How do you react? How do you cope when someone you thought you knew suddenly becomes someone with a condition?

My friends found it really hard – almost impossible. And so did I.

When I was 14, studying hard at school and blessed with many friends, something in my already fragile mind broke. I was diagnosed as anorexic. I’d already been diagnosed with OCD and was soon labeled bipolar too. A torrent of other labels flowed over the years.

Many friends didn’t know how to react. My best friend at the time didn’t know how to cope. My new closest companion had become my illness. It was isolating and lonely for me and must’ve been confusing and terrifying for her. We lost touch.

The first time I was hospitalised, I lost touch with a lot of people. Some friends wrote to me, sending me cards and magazine cuttings. I appreciated every effort. But it is difficult. Any friend would hope desperately that this person you love being around will get treatment and then get better. But for me it wasn’t quite that simple.

I didn’t go back to that school after that. My life had taken a very unexpected turn down a very unpredictable route and I wouldn’t see many of them again for nearly a decade.

When I was 17 I was very unwell: all I needed was my illness and so I’d alienated myself from everyone around me. I longed to lose myself within my condition. It was an effective solution to the painful fear I felt every day. I didn’t know how to “do life” but I knew how to be anorexic. I was told I was a month away from dying. I didn’t care. And so I was sectioned.

In that clinic I had a psychosis: the most frightening experience of my life. Once the drugs had tamed it enough, two friends from my old school visited me. As 17 year old young men, they were brave enough to visit a girl who’d just been hallucinating daily for weeks, who’d nearly died from anorexia and who the last time they’d seen had been frighteningly thin. Those brave friends gave me my first taste of what could be – a world where I am not alone with my illness and I need never be again. I began to want to get better.Juliette Burton 2

Sadly, I didn’t get better just like that. My mental health problems continued to morph from anorexia to compulsive overeating disorder to bulimia to agoraphobia to depression to OCD… and beyond.

But one of those friends never treated me any differently – however I looked or behaved. He didn’t see the size I was or the insanity of my behavior. He cared about whether I was happy, sad, scared or angry. He saw me, beneath the illness. In spite of my outward appearance he saw the scared little human I was inside.

Over the years I began to find my way towards an ongoing path of recovery. I’d receive emails and texts from him along the way. I’d still have up days and down days but hearing from him brought me back to me. He continued to give me strength to remember who I am beneath my illness.

This friend and I continue to grow up together. I was at his wedding and I grabbed the first opportunity to see him, his wife and their beautiful new baby son earlier this year. Whether he is grey haired or wrinkled, holding a baby or the hand of his wife, a teenager or a man, I will always see him, beneath his outward appearance and I will always care whether he is happy, sad, scared or angry. Because he has done the same for me.

And that’s the thing – whether you are a recognised sufferer of mental health problems or not, wherever you lie on that spectrum, we are all united. We’re not alone. Our appearances will change but those emotions will always feel the same, for all of us.

If you’re a young person with a friend who has a mental health problem and you don’t know how to cope, talk to someone. And when you want to be there for your friend but don’t know what to say, send them a text, an email, a tweet, DM them just to let them know you’re thinking of them. And try to see them underneath their illness.

I’d also recommend checking out the websites of the mental health charity Mind and the eating disorder charity B-Eat.

I went to a school reunion a few years ago. We’d all changed. Our lives had gone down different pathways. They are all wonderful people but we don’t know each other anymore. But that one true friend, he still knows me. He still sees me. He always has done.Juliette Burton

Mind: www.mind.org.uk

B-Eat: www.b-eat.co.uk

Juliette performs at the Scottish Storytelling Centre, Edinburgh on December 10th 2013, at Swindon Arts Centre on January 28th 2014 and at London’s Leicester Square Theatre on 4th and 5th February before touring in Australia in February, March and April. She returns to perform at Brighton Fringe in May 2014 and at Edinburgh Fringe 2014 with her new show ‘Look At Me’. For more details visit www.julietteburton.co.uk and follow her on Twitter @JulietteBurton