John Loughton is founder and CEO of leadership development social enterprise, Dare2Lead. He is an internationally recognised youth leader and campaigner, as well as being a past winner of Big Brother. His childhood has shaped and fuelled his passion for youth work, he tells us why youth work is a game changer.
It is absolutely right that Scotland aims to be the best country on earth to grow up in. We have our rich education system, open politics, a thriving youth sector, state of the art sports and music venues, employment rules promoting work/life balance and our awe-inspiring natural scenery. Scotland is a tremendous springboard from which to launch our future lives and careers. However, our country fails too many young people. And nowhere is this more evident than in the health and wellbeing of today’s generation – especially mental and emotional wellbeing.
Many young people are battling depression, self-harm, eating disorders, anxiety, loneliness, stress, unhappiness and abuse. Statistics also show that mental health issues amongst young Scots are on the rise. There are numerous and complex reasons for this and while diagnosis is improving, research shows that these problems disproportionately impact young people in areas of deprivation and lower income households. (Mental Health Foundation, 2015)
I know how real this is having struggled with mental health issues myself as a teenager. It took me till my 20s to feel confident enough to ‘admit’ and talk about it. I grew up in a very chaotic family, within a very deprived community. Life when I was young felt like living in a pressure cooker. The cocktail of poor role models, serious drug abuse, violent crime, bullying, family breakdown and abysmal housing all drove me to self-harm. It seemed to be my only way to get attention or ‘vent’. It’s never the solution.
Luckily, I found youth work, and it changed my life. Not overnight, and not in a material way. But youth work can be the little bit of light for the future, even when all your past has been darkness. Access to quality, local, joined up and caring youth work is a game-changer – it’s the best way to offer social capital to young people who otherwise are written off or left behind. As our NHS continues to be seen as a ticking time bomb, with massive mental health service waiting lists and as we all live longer, it’s the innovation and capacity of interventions like youth work that promotes healthy lives daily behind the political arguments and shock headlines.
Dr Harry Burns, former Chief Medical Officer for Scotland, says “properly functioning families are the key to making Scotland healthier.” However where there is no positive role model in the family, youth work often provides that positive adult influence and helps young people find their own voice.
We must all realise that investing in youth work ensures that we build healthy children, instead of trying to fix ‘broken’ adults years down the line.
W: dare2lead.co.uk | E: info@Dare2Lead.co.uk | Tw: @JohnLoughton @daretolead