Leeds mum launches youth group as part of mental health campaign in memory of son who took his own life aged 15
Since her son Daniel took his own life at the age of 15, Emma Oliver has been campaigning for better mental health support for young people in Leeds and beyond.
This month saw the launch of her first youth group in the city - one of the key ambitions of the charity she set up in his memory, Team Daniel.
Here, she talks to the Yorkshire Evening Post about the past nearly five years since Daniel’s death in February 2017 and her ongoing quest to raise awareness of the prevalence of mental health issues among children and young people.
That heartbreaking day began like any other, says Emma, with Daniel returning “in a good mood” after a night out with friends before disappearing to his room to revise for an exam he had that week.
The stress of revision and upcoming GCSEs was something Daniel, an A-grade student at Morley’s Bruntcliffe High School, had been struggling with - but still, no-one could have foreseen what he would go on to do.
Emma, 47, of Gildersome, recalled: “He had a bath and he was revising for an exam that he had on the Monday.
“I told him he needed to take breaks and he was fine with that.
“The last time I went upstairs I asked him if he was ok and he said yes and I said ‘right, I’m going to make us a Sunday dinner’. And 20 minutes later, I heard a bang.”
Emma found her son unresponsive and immediately performed CPR.
She managed to get his heartbeat back and paramedics took him to hospital where he was put on life support but was sadly pronounced brain dead and died two days later.
“I didn’t think he would die, even when he was in hospital I thought he was going to come round but he didn’t.
“[But] I just knew as a mum this was about him and I had to be strong for him, my daughter [Chelsea] and my family.
“I donated his organs and he gave five other people a future,” she said.
After his death, Emma began to channel her grief into campaigning for better support for young people struggling with their mental health.
She first set up Team Daniel later that same year, with help from family and friends, before going on to achieve official charity status in 2020.
It now has a board of trustees and a string of successful projects under its belt, including funding summer and Christmas camps for children in Yeadon on free school meals and giving out free books to schools so children can open up about how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected them.
But among its most recent work has been the launch of a weekly Team Daniel Youth Group in Gildersome, which offers a relaxed place for young people so they can bring in their homework, have a hot drink and snacks - and access to face-to-face support.
For Emma, the launch of the young group has been particularly poignant.
“Since Daniel passed, this was my end goal, setting up safe spaces for young people to attend, to talk, for help with home work, get guest speakers in, mental health advocates etc.
“In time I would like to roll this out across the UK.”
Emma said she frustratingly feels little has changed for young people struggling with their mental health in accessing help, and this is what spurs her on every day.
“There aren't enough specialists or money.
“We need early intervention and if we do not get that there will be a generation of adults with bigger issues than they have now.”
Team Daniel launched a campaign to try and get a counsellor in every school so all young people would have someone to talk to - and a petition has so far attracted over 30,000 signatures.
Emma said she feels schools focus too heavily on attendance, putting extra pressure on those with mental health issues.
“I would like schools to recognise that children just cannot get up and pretend everything is ok.
“It’s not that a child doesn’t want to go to school - they can't.”
Emma’s focus is also on helping parents and families, as well as the young person, and doing all she can to stop anyone else going through what she and her family have.
She still suffers PTSD and anxiety which she said can be “overwhelming” when it strikes.
“I still have really hard days. When I’m at home, I’ve always pretended that he’s gone out with his mates.
“I’ve only just started decorating and sorted his bedroom out - everything was the same.”
Emma added: “My aim is once we have grown and we have built a foundation for young people, we can start helping the parents that fight daily for help with their children. They then end up with mental health issues because they are battling a system that needs looking at and changing.
“Talking to parents is heart-breaking, especially when you have an 11-year-old who is telling you they want to kill themselves - but because they haven’t tried it yet or put a plan in place they are deemed to not be urgent enough.
“How do you decide who is in more need than another person?”
She said: “A young person doesn’t have life experience of what is happening to them.
“When Daniel died, on his phone he was googling ‘what is anxiety’. If he had come to me I could have told him.
“In an ideal world there would be provisions for children for mental health issues - there would be a straightforward system to get help [and] parents would get more support rather than [being] fobbed off .”
The Team Daniel youth group meets at St Peter’s Church every Tuesday, from 6pm to 7.30pm for 11 to 14-year-olds and from 7.30-9pm for 15 to 18-year olds.
For more information Team Daniel visit www.teamdaniel.org.uk.
*For confidential support and advice, phone Samaritans Leeds on 116 123 (free) or 0113 245 6789 (local call charges apply)
*Other support numbers:
Kooth – free online wellbeing support for 10-18 year olds www.kooth.comMindmate Single Point of Access – support with emotional wellbeing and mental health for children and young people. Self-referral: young people 13-17 and parents/carers of 5-17 year olds 0300 555 0324
The Market Place – phone support for 11-25 year olds. Same day appointments every day 11.30am-5.30pm. Call 0113 246 1659. Next day appointments book online www.themarketplaceleeds.org.uk/phonesupportTeen Connect – phone / text support for 11-18 year olds from Monday – Friday 3.30pm-2am, Saturday and Sunday 6pm-2am. Phone 0808 800 1212, Text 0771 566 1559
Safe Zone – crisis support for 11-17 year olds, Monday, Thursday, Sunday 6-9pm. Phone 0113 819 8189
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