The Mind Your Head (MYH) programme is about giving young people space and time to explore and talk about their concerns and opinions on Mental Health & Well-being. The holistic programme is delivered through an inter-agency collaboration as prioritised in the Connecting for Life, Ireland’s National Strategy to Reduce Suicide 2015-2020. It highlights tools and supports to help young people cope and deal with issues that can have a negative effect on their Mental Health & Well-being. The MYH programme has its foundation in youth work and with that, comes a non-formal method with youth work practices and principles. These include a positive and non-judgement attitude, and a person-centred approach.
There are 3 core elements of a person-centred approach, the first being Congruence. Congruence is the willingness to transparently relate to the young people without hiding behind a professional or personal facade. Second is Unconditional Positive Regards. When a young person is participating in the MYH programme, they will be listened to without any disapproving actions or reactions. Youth & Community Workers are professionally trained to attentively listen without interruption, judgment or giving advice (when not wanted). Thirdly, the Youth & Community Worker communicates their desire to understand and appreciate the young person’s perspective and work in partnership with them. The young people are treated as equals in this process and are seen as having a certain amount of knowledge about Mental Health & Well-being already (they are not empty vessels). After all, the best people to understand what the issues are for young people are the young people themselves.
This approach has the support of the Health Action Zone, who work in partnership with all agencies including local Youth Services. Advantages of having a youth/community work informed style of facilitation is that the young people, on completion of this programme, will gain the following:
Research suggests that young men in particular face a “myriad of Mental Health issues from depression to social anxiety and that these are often connected to the misuse of substances”. These issues are covered in the MYH with a specific session dedicated to Drugs and Alcohol. The research also states, “young men feel pressure to conform to negative forms of masculinity”. “Many young men do not have an adequate vocabulary to accurately express their feelings and emotions.” “It is equally important for service providers to use the appropriate language when navigating the issue of Mental Health”. Youth & Community Workers are familiar with the language of the young people in their own communities and therefore can communicate with the young people much more effectively. “The findings also suggest that there is a need for a greater understanding of what interests’ young men, and how to approach them using appropriate language”. As well as this, “young men regularly use technology and social media for information and socialising.” According to the My World Survey , the Internet is the single most popular source of Mental Health information among young adults. (Engaging Young Men Project: A report on the mapping exercise conducted in Ireland during 2014, Men’s Health Forum, funded by the National Office of Suicide prevention. The My World Survey, Dooley and Fitzgerald, 2012.)
The MYH programme has created a website and sessions specifically related to internet safety & social media. The MYH facilitators also have links in their local area that can be used throughout the programme. For example, people and organisations involved with the Internet can be invited to the group to speak. Past examples include McAfee and Trend Micro. The young people that participate in the MYH programme have the benefit of linking in with the Youth Work Ireland Cork (YWIC) Social Media accounts & website where they can get info on Mental Health and other recreational youth groups. The YWIC Facebook page also allows young people to send messages and ask questions. “Young Men need to be offered a safe environment, to which they feel a sense of connection and belonging, and wherein trust and confidentiality are sacred”.
Trust and confidentiality are paramount in the MYH groups and are highlighted with the creation of a group contract as part of session one with each group. This is one advantage of having Youth & Community Workers over a known teacher according to feedback from the young people in our internal evaluations. “The relevance of sport and ‘doing’ activities are deemed to be of paramount importance with attempting to engage with Mental Health issues.” All of the MYH sessions are designed so that there are various different activities and games so that the young people can engage more successfully.
After a consultation with young people conducted by the DCYA , participants perceived a stigma attached to other issues such as body image, self-harm and eating disorders. The young people consulted “emphasised the need for greater openness on this issue and the need to raise awareness within schools”. (Healthy Lifestyles Have Your Say: A Consultation with Children and Young People. This report outlines the views of children and young people on factors that help and hinder them in having a healthy lifestyle, 2016. ) Each MYH group is challenged with how they will spread what they have learnt to their peers in their school. Previous examples of peer education projects where murals in the canteen, posters, wristbands, key rings and songs. The MYH website is the idea from a previous MYH group. (Feedback from the young people. Who participated in the MYH programme).
From the same consultation “Participants also understood that health was not limited to physical aspects but included mental and emotional health as well.” This fits in well with the definition of Mental Health chosen for the MYH programme and used as a framework for the different sessions and activities. “Healthy lifestyles are associated with having supportive families and friends, who provide encouragement, companionship, understanding and a positive influence” All these can also be received from the membership of a youth service. A youth centre is also a place in a young person’s life where they can develop important skills in a positive environment. The young people were asked what would help?
Finally, the consultation also tells us that young people are worried about body image, to be skinnier in the case of girls and to be bulkier in the case of boys. Body image is also a session that is covered in the MYH programme. The consultation continues by suggesting that some policy makers and other professionals see depression and anxiety as individual pathologies, requiring greater access to treatment, but young people see Mental Health issues in terms of an interaction between the individual and his or her environments. “From this perspective, prevention and treatment need to go beyond individual engagement in Mental Health services and include a focus on a healthier environment.” Which is what MYH helps each young person to do.
In 2020, the Mind Your Head programme was researched and evaluated by University College Cork through CARL (Community Academic Research Links) by researcher Colin Koyce. Below are some findings from this research.
Through the analysis of the Mind Your Head programme, it is evident that this programme is extraordinarily successful in its efforts to educate young people around the topic of mental health. The findings that complement the statement that this programme is successful are sub headed as follows:
These findings were discovered using interviews with the programme facilitators, participant observation by the researcher of this thesis, and analysis of the programme contents. The three findings will be discussed and analysed further in the following segment.