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I launched Emerge Advocacy to bring hope to young people who are hurting, says Joy Wright

It’s no secret that young people in the UK are struggling with their mental health. But it need not blight their lives, if only the right people step up to offer the right help at the right time.

As a teenager I struggled with overwhelming feelings of hopelessness. I frequently thought about ending my life and tried to cope day by day through self-harm and disordered eating. But I had one or two key people who refused to give up on me, who held onto hope for my life, and gradually I began to see light at the end of the tunnel. As I emerged from my teenage years with a growing sense of purpose, the thing I wanted more than anything was for others to know that hope is real and freedom from these issues is possible.

When it comes to analysing the mental health of our nation, the statistics are scary. Mental Health First Aid England reports that: 

  • 50 per cent of mental ill health starts by age 15 and 75 per cent develops by age 18.
  • The proportion of young people aged 15 – 16 who reported feeling depressed or anxious doubled between the mid-1980s and the mid-2000s.
  • About 20 per cent of young people with mental ill health wait more than six months to receive care from a specialist.

There are many things impacting the mental health of our nation’s young people, and one of them is social media. It’s full implications are only just being understood, but we know that teenagers are living in a world that’s more connected than ever. 

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However, reports show that within this connected world, young people are also experiencing increasing levels of loneliness. There are other pressures, too, as more children are growing up in families hit by austerity and financial pressures. The net result has been a marked increase in the number of young people with mental health concerns at a time when funding for support services is being cut. 

The impact is clear, and we have seen hospital admissions for teenage girls who self-harm double in the last 20 years. Many end up in A&E departments that, while doing their utmost, are not the best place for the majority of these young people. 

God wants His people to flourish

We know that Jesus came to transform our brokenness, and, as His representatives on earth, we carry His mandate. The words of Isaiah 61 call us to bind up the broken-hearted and to herald the beginning of the end of shame and despair. But where do you even start to address the huge issue of mental health? Over the past three years Emerge Advocacy has been taking on the challenge. 

Launched in Guildford, Surrey in 2016, Emerge is a voice of hope’ to young people who find themselves overwhelmed by their thoughts and feelings and unable to keep themselves safe. You’ll find our teams in A&E departments bringing comfort, hope and peace to young people who are admitted because of self-harm or a suicide attempt. Since starting, we have had the privilege of supporting more than 350 young people and our work has been recognised by the Care Quality Commission.

We know that young people often struggle to articulate their thoughts and feelings to health professionals. Many feel intimidated by the clinical environment and so our volunteers stay with them: reassuring them, chatting to them, explaining what’s happening, and helping them engage with health professionals, so the experience isn’t so overwhelming.

On one occasion, simply being with a 15 year old enabled her to stay calm. She described the support of the volunteer by saying, They helped me take my mind off all that was happening so I was able to go to sleep. She made me laugh and feel safe.” 

At other times, our impact is more dramatic. When a young person confided in us that she had a razor blade hidden in her bra, we were able to persuade her to give it up before the situation escalated. 

Our support extends beyond A&E, too. We can meet a young person for coffee for up to three months after they’ve been discharged. One 18 year old we supported nominated an Emerge volunteer for a hospital recognition award saying, Emerge was always there for me; they fought for me. No other mental health team stays with you like this. They saved my life.”

Cinnamon Project Lab 2019

News certainly spreads fast and we’ve been contacted by hospitals across the country that are keen to work with Emerge. But to extend our work, we need to find a way to mobilise Christians and churches outside our networks. 

When we heard that Cinnamon Network’s Project Lab competition would be focusing on health in 2019, we were quick to apply. Project Lab is Cinnamon’s annual competition focused on finding church-led, social action projects and helping them replicate. 

It was just what we needed. From the very start of the application process, we found Cinnamon’s support to be invaluable in helping us to shape our ideas. We were delighted to make the final, and it was an incredible surprise to win.

We’ve now secured a place on Cinnamon’s two-year Project Incubator programme, where we will receive professional support to put in place secure foundations and governance to replicate our work. 

Alongside this, the £30,000 development grant we received will enable us to release the running of the hospital-based work in Guildford so our core team can invest time in replicating the work. 

The future is really exciting, but we hold fast to our connection with Father God as the source of all we do. While we only talk about faith if the young person initiates it, our inner spiritual interactions remain implicit. 

Whether we meet a young person just once, or go on to build a long-term relationship with them, we know that they are held in the palm of God’s hand. As the words of Jeremiah 29:11 tell us, “’I know the plans I have for you,’” says the Lord, “‘plans for good and not for disaster, plans to give you a future and a hope.’”

To find out more about Emerge Advocacy visit www​.emergead​vo​ca​cy​.com

Cinnamon Project Lab

Cinnamon Project Lab is an annual competition to find ambitious church-led projects that want to help other churches replicate their work. Two winners receive a £30,000 development grant and a place on the coveted two-year Cinnamon Project Incubator programme. For more information visit www​.cin​na​mon​net​work​.co​.uk

Evangelical Alliance mental health editorial series

Emerge Advocacy is among the Christian organisations that is providing a much-needed practical response to the increase in mental health problems. Earlier this year, the Evangelical Alliance ran an editorial series on mental health, to highlight the perspectives and work of its members: Fegans, Viva, The NOUS Organisation and Christian psychotherapist Dr Rachel-Rose Burrell (of Ruach City Church, London). Read through the series to enhance your understanding of the challenges facing different communities around the country and find out how you can partner with them to tackle this growing problem. 

Photo: Joy Wright, second from the right, receiving her Cinnamon Project Lab award.

About the author

Joy Wright is founder and director of Emerge Advocacy, which offers a caring and compassionate service to teenagers and young adults attending hospital because of self-harm, overdose or attempted suicide.



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