'My passion is to eradicate the stigma and discrimination around young people’s mental health'

A Leeds woman who suffered mental health problems throughout her childhood is urging  young people with emotional difficulties to seek help.

Charlotte Betteridge

Charlotte Betteridge, of Seacroft, spoke to the YEP during Children’s Mental Health Week.

The YEP’s #SpeakYourMind campaign for 2019 will focus on children’s mental health.

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Diagnosed with epilepsy at 22-months old, Charlotte suffered from depression and anxiety throughout her school years.

Charlotte Betteridge

She said fellow pupils would stand and stare when she had fitting episodes at school.

The 23-year-old said she didn’t feel as though she fit in - and would lash out at students and teachers in anger.

But although Charlotte was struggling emotionally, she said she did not understand mental health when she was a child and was not aware what support was available.

She also suffered hair loss due to stress and self-harmed, following brain and spinal surgery aged 17.

But Charlotte eventually sought help from Leeds mental health charity, The Market Place, and now volunteers with charities, determined to help end the stigma surrounding children’s mental health.

“It helped me massively,” she said. “They listened and didn’t judge. I felt safe at The Market Place.

“No words can fully describe how fantastic the workers are there.”

Charlotte has urged children and young people struggling with emotional problems to seek help.

“There is always someone out there willing to help you,” she said.

“There is so much more support now in Leeds for young people’s mental health.” Charlotte now volunteers at The Market Place, which offers a range of free services for 11 to 25-year-olds in Leeds, including one to one support, counselling, group-work and a drop-in centre.

She is also an ambassador for mental health and emotional wellbeing website MindMate and volunteers for national charity YoungMinds.

Charlotte said: “From personal experience, adults don’t think young people can suffer from mental illness, that they are just attention seeking – which is far from the truth.

“My passion is to eradicate the stigma and discrimination around young people’s mental health.”

NHS chiefs say young people should eat healthily and take regular exercise, to support their own mental health.

This year’s Children’s Mental Health Week, which ends on Sunday, is focused on encouraging youngsters to look after both their physical and mental health.

Dr Jane Mischenko, commissioning lead for children and maternity services at NHS Leeds Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “Children’s Mental Health Week has a particular focus this year on being ‘healthy inside and out’.

“This is a great way to help children and young people think about how improving your physical wellbeing, through eating well and regularly doing some physical activity, really supports mental health.”

Charlotte Betteridge backed the call.

“I’ve had a tough time with my mental health from a very young age, and what helped me and still helps to this day is singing and dancing,” she said.

“It’s very uplifting and you don’t realise the positive impact this can have on you.

“I also find reading really helpful, as it helps me dive into a whole different world, and helps me forget whatever is affecting my mental wellbeing.”

Children’s mental health charity Place2Be launched the inaugural Children’s Mental Health Week in 2015, to shine a spotlight on the importance of children and young people’s mental health.

Now in its fifth year, the charity hopes to encourage more people than ever to get involved.

Place2Be provides support and in-depth training programmes in 294 schools in England, Scotland and Wales, which aim to improve the emotional wellbeing of pupils, families, teachers and school staff.

Any parent worried about their child’s mental health and who needs help or support can call the NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 5000.

Children who want to discuss any concerns can contact Childline free on 0800 1111.

Contacting Childline is confidential and you do not have to give your name if you don’t want to.

The NHS Leeds MindMate website - at www.mindmate.org.uk - provides mental health and emotional wellbeing advice and information for young people in Leeds as well as for parents and carers.