Gail Teasdale: A head start for vulnerable teenagers

MENTAL health issues in early teens, if not tackled early, can develop into more serious conditions, impacting on school attendance and results as well as opportunities in later life.

A new scheme is being launched in Hull to help young people address mental health issues.
A new scheme is being launched in Hull to help young people address mental health issues.

HeadStart Hull, an exciting five-year £56m National Lottery-funded programme, is about helping young people develop effective strategies for maintaining good mental health while ensuring children and young people who need additional help are able to access the right support at the right time and in the right way.

It is also crucial they feel confident to discuss their feelings and worries with a trusted adult and support their peers and they do not feel alone.

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We know young people experience lots of things while growing up which can contribute to poor emotional wellbeing and increased anxiety and social isolation.

These issues can range from bullying, body image and peer pressure to family problems, separation, bereavement and loss, or exam stress and even the pressure of moving up from primary to secondary school.

While some young people cope well with these challenges, others need more support – especially if they don’t have good peer networks or trusted adults around them to share their worries and experiences with.

According to new national research, about one in five children and young people said they experienced emotional problems. Girls are more than twice as likely to say they had experienced emotional problems, with 25 per cent of girls saying they had a problem, compared with 11 per cent of boys.

In contrast, boys are one-and-a-half times more likely to say they have experienced behavioural problems.

These figures are just too high. In Hull, we know there are young people who need support, and we want everyone to know that there is help out there both in school or in their community e.g. in youth centres. This early help includes peer mentors, group work, counselling and resilience coaches. There is also peer mentoring and group work support for parents. This support can make a huge difference if people know it is available.

An important part of HeadStart Hull’s work is to support young people to develop campaigns using creative and artistic approaches to tackle issues which matter to them. To do this HeadStart Hull works in partnership with the Hull Young People’s Parliament as well as recruiting a team of young volunteers called “HeadStarters” who are passionate about improving mental health and challenging stigma.

The HeadStarters have developed a new mental health campaign ‘You are not alone’, designed by young people for young people, and which will be launched at the Humber Bridge today. Aged between 12 and 20, young people from across the city, some of whom have had their own personal struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts, developed the idea, wanting to do something positive, make a difference and explore how art and culture can help with evoking thoughts through an emotive artistic approach.

Using creative soundscapes, inspirational messages and poems, the campaign aims to challenge and reduce the stigma of suicide, promote positive mental health and access to services when people need it. However, most importantly, it encourages people to reach out to others who are may be struggling with life’s challenges, with reassurances that even in difficult times, you are not alone. Help is out there.

This builds on previous campaigns developed by HeadStart Hull such as the three minute hero’s campaign which used music and song writing to raise awareness of mental health issues and challenge stigma.

Twelve speakers along the Humber Bridge will provide creative soundbites with positive messages from young people to reach those most in need. It will run for the next four weeks and there are plans to install the soundscape in other locations in Hull throughout the year to coincide with national mental health campaigns.

The young people who have worked on all aspects of the campaign want their peers to know that, even in difficult times when they can feel at their most isolated, they are not alone.

To find out more about the services available to children and young people in Hull and how to contact them, go to

Gail Teasdale is the Headstart Hull lead at Hull City Council