BY HANNAH BARR
Around 90 people who attended Doorsteps’ mental health conference last month have returned to their communities informed and supported about the subject and empowered to make a difference.
The event at St Andrew’s Church, north Oxford, entitled ‘A Christian Response to Child and Adolescent Mental Health’, drew participants from across Oxfordshire, and also from as far away as Kent and Somerset.
Ian Soars of Fegans was one of the conference’s keynote speakers. His enthusiasm was contagious and he really inspired everyone that they can support children and young people who are struggling with their mental health.
The other keynote address was from Rachael Newham from ThinkTwice and Mind and Soul. She spoke movingly about her own journey with her mental health and what the Bible really says on the issue. In the afternoon, there were workshops on diverse topics from CAMHS, to creativity, to the mindfulness potential in being outdoors.
The day was organised because, as a team, we were increasingly feeling convicted that we needed to support people in the Doorsteps network and beyond who are working with children and young people – to equip them to face the child and youth mental health crisis we seem to be facing at the moment.
The Mental Health Foundation reports that one in four people in the UK will experience a problem with their mental health in any given year.
In Oxfordshire, children from the poorest 20 per cent of households have a three-fold greater risk of mental health problems than children from the wealthiest 20 per cent, reports Oxfordshire County Council.
One in ten children and young people aged 5-16 suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder – that is around three in every class at school. (Source: Centre for Suicide Research, Department of Psychiatry, Warneford Hospital, Oxford, ‘Self-Harm in Oxford’ 2010)
In ‘The Good Childhood Report 2017’ from The Children’s Society, they found that young people’s happiness is at its lowest since 2010.
And in Young Mind’s #FightingFor report, they found that only nine per cent of young people and six per cent of parents found it easy to get the support they needed. Half of young people said they hadn’t understood what they were going through, a quarter of parents said that their child hadn’t told them what they were going through, and four in ten parents reported problems getting help from school or college.
At Doorsteps, we want to see children, young people, and families thriving. In our work with young people and with early years provision, we have become increasingly concerned by the rise in young people struggling with their mental health and the lack of information and support for parents and others who support them, such as church workers.
The issue of mental health has not always been dealt with well by churches, for all sorts of reasons. But we passionately believe that the Church needs to lead the way in speaking accurately about mental health, creating environments where we can talk openly about challenges and struggles, and supporting our children and young people to look after their mental health and to support them if their mental health is in a precarious state.
As Christians, we believe that light shines in darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. We want to be that light in darkness, for children and young people who are struggling with their mental health, but also for those who are caring for them – parents, children’s workers, youth workers, church leaders and more.
The Doorsteps Team has been really touched by the great feedback from the conference. One person commented, “Some of the things I heard today I have waited years to hear.”
Another: “Great, informative day with lots to take back to my own church.”
And another: “So brilliant. Thank you so, so much. We need this! I have lots to take away and am very grateful for all the information given. I’m excited!”
A parent said, “Thank you so much for organising this conference, it has been invaluable in helping me understand more about my own mental health and has given me confidence in nurturing my child.”
It was really wonderful and moving to see delegates connecting with one another, sharing their own experiences, and realising they are not alone in their work. It was humbling to meet so many people who are doing such great work for our children and young people – thank you for all you are and all you do.
Stay tuned for news on Doorsteps’ ‘next steps’ for continuing the conversation on child and youth mental health and wellbeing in our churches.
This conference was generously supported by the Bishop of Oxford’s Outreach Fund.