Our Your Own Place (YOP) Advisory Board (AB) is a group of individuals who have experience of what we offer: they’ve joined us through mentoring, employabiliy, or TILS+ workshops.
YOP + AB = YOPAB
The involvement of those with lived experience is vital to our development and that of wider services. Our people are at the heart of YOPAB and we want to hear their voice.
YOPAB’s current focus is on mental health: they have formed a panel to discuss their lived experience, and how this can inform our organisation’s inclusivity and equity.
As part of #mentalhealthawarenessweek, with this year’s theme of loneliness, we asked one member to share their experience, in their own words:
Everyone has different needs, and that is something that we are discussing as part of YOPAB’s Mental Health Panel. Offering adjustments and fostering an openness towards mental health can allow the people who may be too afraid to ask for what they need to engage, succeed, and even thrive. Mental health conditions and poor wellbeing affect different people in different ways but they don’t always need to be a barrier.
I was signed off of Sixth Form because of anxiety and I couldn’t complete my A levels. Unfortunately, the adjustments I needed weren’t able to be put in place without a formal document or diagnosis.
Eventually, I ended up attending a different college, but my experience was so different and they were more open to making adjustments and implementing support. I was given a 1:1, allowed to work in pairs instead of groups, and as my needs fluctuated and changed, so did the support. For example, sometimes I needed quieter workspaces, other times I just needed the content of lessons emailed to me if I was struggling to retain information.
After a year, I didn’t need ongoing support, but knowing it was there through the college’s openness, made me feel more comfortable asking if I did need something. My anxiety remained but it wasn’t a huge barrier as I was supported to achieve despite it. The adjustments helped me to get a qualification I was proud of.
I then got a job- it was fast paced, busy and I was responsible for a lot; I was already aware of how this could potentially impact my anxiety but I knew I was qualified, experienced and willing. Having been in similar settings before, I also knew what may be difficult.
However, despite my openness at the interview, my workplace wasn’t receptive to adjustments and didn’t really understand anxiety; they were also under pressure so focus was elsewhere.
I worked hard, but after a while, my mental health suffered. My shifts meant I was missing appointments, so I started a medication instead, but that gave me unpleasant side effects and I had to be open about this as early mornings became harder. The option of adjustments was difficult within a short staffed environment though, so I was signed off sick instead and eventually I lost my job, which knocked my confidence.
With the Mental Health Panel, it has been good to talk about how mental health needs are still important to respond to regardless of a diagnosis or document, having faced that barrier before. It’s also encouraging to see how we can help influence the support that can be provided to staff with needs and requirements in the context of mental health, having had a difficult experience whilst working.
We’ve also talked about how adjustments don’t have to be major- it could be as simple as allowing a main break to be broken up into smaller time periods so someone can have regular breather breaks or a degree of flexibility to allow an appointment to be attended. As well as this, we have spoken about how even openness, understanding and empathy can sometimes be enough- listening to what a person needs can benefit both parties.
Small adjustments can make a big difference, and “needs” aren’t a bad thing- they are human.