Children's mental health support needed now more than ever says Leeds charity

Vulnerable children in some of the most disadvantaged communities in Leeds need help now more than ever after a rise in domestic violence and drug use during lockdown, according to a charity project manager.
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The Beck Project, which works to support children's emotional and mental health, said relationship difficulties have been highlighted during the coronavirus pandemic.

The project is part of Leeds-based charity GIPSIL (Gipton Supported Independent Living) - based at The Old Fire Station on Gipton Approach - which has been supporting young people, adults and families for more than 20 years.

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The Beck Project, which helps children aged four to 18 in Leeds primary and secondary schools, focuses on their emotional and mental health and provides counselling, wellbeing support, group work and family mediation.

The project's Children in Need funded Young Person’s Mediation Service supports young people and their parent or carer where they are struggling with conflict at home.

Becky Jones, wellbeing manager at the Beck Project spoke to the YEP as part of our ongoing #SpeakYourMind campaign, which aims to tackle the stigma surrounding mental health.

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Becky said: "We are providing online and face to face mediation sessions to look at practical ways of improving relationships.

"The need for the service has increased following lockdown as difficulties within relationships have been highlighted, arguments have increased and issues such as domestic violence and substance use have escalated.

"Mediation provides a safe and non judgemental space to work through relationship difficulties.

"After completing mediation sessions one mum recently said: 'If it wasn’t for this, we’d have had nowhere to go.'

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"And a young person said: 'I learnt that my dad actually did want to spend time with me, I thought he was all talk.'"

GIPSIL and the Beck Project work alongside a range of partners, including NHS Leeds Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).

The YEP has previously reported that health chiefs at the CCG have published what has been described as one of their most “innovative and dynamic” plans to tackle the issue of health inequality in Leeds once and for all and help close the gap in health outcomes between rich and poor.

In the CCG’s annual review, chief executive Tim Ryley, together with Jason Broch, clinical chair, said the pandemic’s impact will be “far reaching and long lasting”, affecting people’s physical health, mental welling, livelihoods and communities - with those living in areas of deprivation among the hardest hit.

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“The economic decline and social disruption resulting from the pandemic will almost certainly harm health and widen health inequalities”, they said.

The CCG's new health inequalities framework will now be a major factor in the work to mitigate the effects of the pandemic.

The ambitious blueprint for action has shaken up the way the CCG has traditionally run health services and gives more power - and funding - to communities to tackle issues head on.

Becky Jones said the Beck Project also supports children looked after aged 14 to 16 to improve their emotional health and offer activities to encourage peer support and raise their aspirations.

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Becky said: "These young people have found the last few months particularly difficult due to uncertainty around exam results, isolation and the challenge of maintaining positive mental health.

"The project worker has continued to adopt a creative approach to support, doing sun printing in young people’s gardens, creating bespoke notice boards with young people to help them prepare for the new term and creating online animations with young people to help them explore their feelings.

"Young people told us that the continued support was helpful.

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"One young man said: 'I appreciate having someone to talk to who actually believes me, because I’m always shut down by adults.'"

Becky added: "We work alongside a range of partners and commissioners to deliver our services, including the Leeds Clinical Commissioning Group.

"Our support is usually delivered within a school setting, however, with Covid lockdown we adapted our support to include online sessions and outdoor, socially distanced activities.

"One young man aged 15 was referred to us due to increased feelings of loneliness and low mood during lockdown.

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"One of our wellbeing workers supported him through a combination of weekly online sessions focused on improving his mental health and outdoor activity sessions to help him get out of the house.

"The teenager said that as a result of the support he started running on a regular basis in his local park.

"He said: 'Because of the support, I feel more able to do my school work, to be creative, and to do my running.'"

Since the start of September The Beck Project restarted face to face support sessions in school.

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And they have started delivering group work programmes around a range of topics.

Becky said: "Our ‘Safe Space’ group helps children to explore their experiences and feelings around lockdown and find creative ways of feeling hopeful about the future.

"Children have expressed mixed emotions about returning to school after lockdown and need help to navigate these experiences.

"Our ‘Rise’ group has also started in school and this programme is for young people who have experienced racism and provides a space for young people to feel supported by their peers.

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"The young men involved in the group have said they look forward to coming every week and it’s given them ideas about how they want to challenge racism in their school.

"Their teacher has said they can do a presentation to their year group about what they have learnt.

Anyone wanting to find out more about the Beck Project can contact Becky Jones on 07593 450204 or email [email protected] or go the website at website www.gipsil.org.uk

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