Bedfordshire teen opens her heart about fighting eating disorder

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A Bedfordshire girl is battling an eating disorder partly by writing a ‘positivity’ newsletter for fellow mental health sufferers.

Now Roshni Patel, from Ampthill, is in a competition that hails the ‘giving to others’ of Bedfordshire’s younger generation.

The 16-year-old has been nominated for the Atlas Converting Young People of the Year awards or ‘YOPEYs’ – Oscars for young people who ‘give to others’.

The annual contest has over £1,000 to be won by Bedfordshire young people who are positive role models.

There will be at least two Beds Young People of the Year, a senior YOPEY, aged 17-25, winning £500, and a junior YOPEY, aged 10-16, winning £300.

Either prize can be won by an individual or group and the winners have to invest most of their winnings in their good cause but can keep £100 to treat themselves. There will also be several £100 runners-up prizes.

Roshni, of Wingate Drive, was nominated by Steve Gray, her head of school at Redborne Upper School and Community College in Flitwick Road, Ampthill.

Steve said: “Roshni has overcome adversity and the remarkable steps she has taken to give back so much to the community based on her experiences.”

Roshni’s nomination was supported by the Bedfordshire branch of CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services).

“She’s a lovely girl who is part of the user participation group and a really great ambassador for beating eating disorders,” said Niki Scott, a participation officer with the service.

Roshi’s parents Nita and Stephen Patel remember well how Roshi’s eating disorder started to emerge when she joined Redborne in Year 9.

Stephen said: “In September 2014 Roshni had a sickness bug and time away from school.

“We noticed that things with her were not correct and sought help. It emerged that she did not feel right which then led to admission into an eating-disorder clinic in December that year.

“She progressed well and it was established that her issues were not related to eating. She was discharged eight weeks later. However since then, especially around stressful periods, her weight reduces.”

Mum Nita added: “I’m not entirely sure about the reason behind Roshni’s eating disorder, but think it was a combination of body image and stress. She has been recovering well despite minor setbacks.

“We currently see the dietician and a counsellor at CAMHS, who now believe that Roshni is suffering with an eating disorder.”

Roshni’s parents are confident she will eventually overcome her illness.

“She has a group of good friends, part-time job and is focusing on her GCSE exams this summer,” added dad Stephen.

Roshni is very ambitious and – possibly as a result of the support and treatment she has received from the NHS and CAMHS – she would like a career in mental health services.

Head of school Steve added: “Roshni has been a regular contributor to the work of the student councils and was elected as her year representative to the school council in 2015-16.

“As part of the chrity week fundraising las year, Roshni was successful in persuading the student council to adopt the eating disorder charity charity B-EAT as one of our nominated charities for the week.

“She then took the very brave decision to speak to assemblies across the school not only about the charity in general, but also about some of her own experiences.

“To speak with both passion and clarity about such personal matters to five audiences of nearly 400 each took enormous courage. She earned the respect of staff and students alike.”

Redborne’s 2016 charity week raised £2,000 of which £300 was donated to B-EAT.

At Redborne, Roshni has also spoken to her English class about her struggle with anorexia for her GCSE speaking assessment.

Her English teacher, Gemma Perri, said: “I could tell from the silence in the room that Roshni’s words had a profound impact and encouraged students to reflect on the issues discussed.”

Gemma said the teenager “delivered her words with confidence and bravery”.

In addition, Roshni’s presentation was made even more impressive by the scrapbook she brought in and shared with the class which mapped her time as an inpatient.

Outside school Roshni has taken part in a panel reviewing care with mental health and charity professionals and other young people with eating disorders.

“I was the only unsupervised young person on the panel. There was one other girl who came with her mother. The other service user representatives were university graduates,” she said.

She has also taken part in activities organised by CAMHS with other young people battling mental illnesses. But perhaps her biggest achievement has been to publish her own newsletter circulated in mental health clinic waiting rooms.

Called Positivity, the newsletter runs to five to six A4 pages, and came out several times last year.

Roshni said: “I write all of the articles myself with ideas of coping strategies that I was given at Rhodes Farm.”

Rhodes Farm is the inpatient eating disorder clinic in Mill Hill, north London, that Roshni attended in 2014-15.

Despite her troubles Roshni still thinks of others and thanks them.

She added: “The school was extremely supportive with my suggestion of raising money for B-EAT as we all believed more needed to be done surrounding mental health.

“I felt so honoured to have the support of my year behind such a great charity that I connected with so personally.”

YOPEY has been praised by national leaders including former prime ministers and the new Education Secretary for seeking out ‘ordinary’ young people who contribute “something extraordinary to their communities”.

Justine Greening MP said: “The awards provide an inspiration for other young people – and for adults – that even in difficult circumstances young people can find ways to help others and change the world around them.”

YOPEY started in Bedfordshire in 2006 and has expanded to many other counties.

Its founder, former national newspaper journalist Tony Gearing, said: “There are many young people in Bedfordshire doing wonderful things for others. It’s just that they live in the shadow of a well-publicised anti-social minority.

“We need to give young people the respect they deserve and set up the best as positive role models for others to copy rather than focusing on the small number who appear in the press for negative reasons.”

About Roshni, Tony said: “She is going through an incredibly difficult time but coping admirably.

“At the same time she wants to give back to the people who have supported her.

“Her talks at school have been very open and touching, and her newsletters are a gem of support to others going through similar mental health struggles.”

As well as Atlas Converting, which is based in Wolseley Road, Kempston, this year’s Beds YOPEY is sponsored by the county’s fire & rescue service and recruitment company Guidant Group.

The YOPEY charity has also received grants from Bedfordshire & Luton Community Foundation, the Gale Family Trust and Wixamtree.

The Bedfordshire awards will be presented at St John’s College, Cambridge, this autumn when a joint ceremony with Cambridgeshire young people will be held. But each county will have its own Young People of the Year.

> Do you know somebody who deserves the title Young Person of the Year?

To nominate logon to or write, enclosing a stamped-addressed-envelope, to YOPEY, Woodfarm Cottage, Bury Road, Stradishall, Newmarket CB8 8YN for a paper entry form. Entries close on July 31st.

YOPEY is open to young people aged from 10 to 25, who should live, work or study in Bedfordshire. But they do not have to meet all three conditions.

They could go to school, college or university in Beds but live elsewhere and vice versa.

Typical entries include fundraisers, young carers, club leaders, volunteers on projects at home or abroad and young leaders who pass on academic or sporting skills.

YOPEY is always revealing new positive role models and the qualification for entry is easy – simply, the young person has to ‘give to others’.

Schools, youth organisations, churches and charities across Beds are being urged to nominate their young people. If their nominee wins, they can share the prize money. Family and friends can also nominate but they cannot win prize money. Young people can even nominate themselves.