Newcastle mental health activist develops a toolkit for schools.
After years of campaigning, mental health and wellbeing will now be included on the Education and Training Inspectorate within Northern Ireland writes Laura Barr.
This step forward is thanks to a group of young people and a local youth worker’s vision.
Newcastle activist Rory Doherty who has led the change with the young people from the MyStory YourStory project hailed the development as a “big result” for all youth groups who are collectively campaigning to improve the mental health services within schools.
Rory has created a downloadable toolkit which enables facilitators to help young people tell their story and transform their experience.
The toolkit entitled ‘Past Present Future Change’ is aimed at youth workers, teachers and activists to help them harness the power of storytelling to deliver positive change.
Rory who has worked as a Project Coordinator for the Quaker Service in Belfast and created the toolkit with support from the Social Change Initiative.
The website created for the project will act as a platform to carry the stories of those young people who want to share their experiences.
Rory, who has dedicated his career to helping young people who are victims of the Troubles, either themselves, or through their parents, speaking to Down News, said: “storytelling can be an emotional process of reflection, self-evaluation and personal growth.
“Participants talk about a past filled with pain, suffering, abuse and/or addiction.
“Often the participants get to a place where they can find hope for their future and the knowledge that through sharing their stories, others who may be experiencing abuse, trauma or need help can find the courage to speak out and ask for help.
“Past Present Future Change addresses the fact that young people living in post-conflict societies are often scarred with violence, loss, abuse and trauma, with many having to cope with past traumatic events with little or no support.”
Rory added that these are the “unheard stories” who can be framed by the media as “apathetic, disengaged and removed from society”.
Rory’s recent publication ‘My Story’ documented a series of narrations of real life from the perspective of young people, women and refugee and asylum seekers living in a post-conflict society.
The MyStory YourStory campaign seen Rory lead a group of campaigners who took their story to Stormont in April 2018 calling for better health services to support young people struggling with poor mental health.
In 2018, Rory was awarded a fellowship from the Social Change Initiative which then enabled him to develop, and create Past Present Future Change.
He said storytelling had proven to be a powerful tool.
“The participants often realise that they have to return to their past and share their experiences, so they can then move forward and look to a brighter future.”
The toolkit launched on Thursday, 3 September with a webinar including Cristina Jiménez, co-founder and former Executive Director of ‘United We Dream’, a renowned youth-led organisation which uses storytelling to push for positive change in immigration legislation in the United States.
Rory explained that the launch was a “timely approach” given the restrictions which have been put in place in response to the Covid-19 pandemic and the impact this will have on marginalised young people.
“The pandemic has certainly increased pressures on many charities but it was already the case that young people faced barriers to accessing support across a wide range of issues” he said.
Rory hopes that the toolkit will serve as a “go to” for anyone working directly with young people in Northern Ireland.
Education Minister Peter Weir has welcomed the Past Present Future Change toolkit and said: “Following the annual review of the safeguarding proforma, a section on mental health and wellbeing has been added explicitly.”
Rory said this was an “excellent outcome” and a “true testament” to the young people who have campaigned for this change for too many years.