A Kempston girl is among a group of young people with mental health issues who have won through to the final of the YOPEY awards.
Gracie Powell, 14, of Adamson Walk, is part of a group called Connect which is raising awareness of mental health and want to remove the stigma that prevents many people from being open about the issues they face.
The group were nominated for Atlas Young People of the Year awards – which will be held at Cranfield University on Friday, October 9 – by Niki Scott, the participation officer of CHUMS, the Bereavement Trauma and Emotional Wellbeing Service, and CAMHS, the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service – two services used by young people with mental health issues.
Niki said: “In this day and age many young people suffer from anxiety and low self-esteem. The pressure of daily life can cause many issues for them.”
She described the seven members of Connect as “amazing young people. They work together to help raise awareness of mental health issues that young people face and fight to reduce the stigma attached.”
They meet once a week to discuss current issues and ideas that might affect them on a daily basis. Part of the draw for the youngsters is to meet others who may be suffering from similar mental health issues.
They helped to host a CHUMS open evening and have produced a magazine that is available in CHUMS and CAMHS waiting rooms. They are also involved in the interview panels for recruiting new members of staff to the two mental health services.
The group have also made a short educational film called Joe’s Story. The 20-minute film is due to be shown in Bedfordshire schools later this year.
Niki added: “I really admire them because they have overcome their own issues and anxieties to put themselves in the spotlight to raise awareness. Working together has improved their confidence and their communication skills.”
Gracie has been helped by CHUMS with anxiety issues and clinical depression since the age of 11. As a thank-you she has been helping to promote CHUMS by speaking at local conferences, schools and even on a radio station.
Gracie said: “It was a great experience working with the Connect group to produce this film. It is about a boy with anxiety issues and how he deals with them. I acted in it and the best part was that we were asked for our opinions and we could make changes to the script too.
“The film gives us a chance to fight the stigma of mental health issues in young people and I think it helped me because I got to use my own experience during the production.”
YOPEY has been praised by national leaders. Prime Minister David Cameron said YOPEY entries show determination and “resolve to make a difference”.
YOPEY was founded by former national newspaper journalist Tony Gearing, who said: “Young people who have mental health issues and have been helped by CHUMS or CAMHS are now giving back by being part of Connect. The group is an inspiration.”
The group is competing with nine other Bedfordshire finalists, aged 10-25, for over £2,000 in cash prizes put up by Kempston-based Atlas Converting Equipment and the other YOPEY sponsors including Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service, Central Bedfordshire Council, and recruitment company Guidant Group.
The YOPEY charity has also received grants or donations from Bedfordshire and Luton Community Foundation, the county’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Bedfordshire Police Partnership, Aldwyck Housing and others.
Entries have now closed but you can find out more information by visiting yopey.org