Healthy Minds Project Interview: Susanne “We currently have 21 children and young people waiting for a befriender within our Healthy Minds project, which is almost half of our current wider waitlist. We have children (both on our waitlist and those currently being befriended) who struggle with anxiety, depression and sometimes panic attacks.” Susanne McMenemy - Healthy Minds Project Lead After seeing an increase in the number of children and young people being referred due to poor personal or parental mental health, the team at Befriend a Child developed the Healthy Minds Project. This initiative sits within the wider Befriending Programme and aims to better support these children with specially trained volunteers. Senior Befriending Coordinator and project lead, Susanne McMenemy tells us a bit more about the programme and how it is helping the young people they support. Can you tell us a bit more about the mental health project you’re working on at Befriend a Child? The Healthy Minds Project sits within the wider Befriending programme, so a lot of the logistical things stay the same, for example, volunteers are paired up with a young person to take them out twice a month for a minimum of a year. The biggest difference is the reason for the referral – all our Healthy Mind volunteers are paired with a child or young person who is impacted by mental health, it might be their own mental health or their parent/carers. We also offer specific training for these volunteers throughout the year, which involves discussing the different types of mental illness, ways this may impact the children and how volunteers can help. These training sessions allow the volunteers within the Healthy Minds project to get to know each other better and perhaps facilitate some peer support. What are the biggest mental health issues you see and how is Befriend a Child working to support that? We have always had referrals that mentioned mental health, but we are seeing a definite increase in the number of referrals we are receiving. We currently have 21 children and young people waiting for a befriender within our Healthy Minds project, which is almost half of our current wider waitlist. We have children (both on our waitlist and those currently being befriended) who struggle with anxiety, depression and sometimes panic attacks. We also see parents and carers who struggle with anxiety, agoraphobia, hoarding, and on occasion severe depression which has resulted in suicide attempts. We are not asking for volunteers to be counsellors but to lend a listening ear and support the young person if they want to talk about what they are going through, and most importantly, provide the child with lots of opportunities for fun and laughter. In some cases, we refer families to Louise Coleman, who coordinates our Family Support Project and may be able to support the parent or carer. What impact have you seen in the children and young people as a result of the project? I receive lots of lovely stories from the befrienders and befriendees, telling us about the fun they have together and how befriending is helping the young person come out of their shell. One of our volunteers told us that their young person was shy and nervous on their first outing, but by the end of the outing they were playing games and chatting non-stop on the way home. We also had feedback that their befriendee had started to talk more on outings and now makes suggestions about what they would like to do, rather than the befriender suggesting ideas. Volunteers have also fed back that the children they befriend have built up more self-confidence and are excited to share their achievements at school and in their personal life. One said that their young person is now cheery and happy when they go to collect her for outings and is able to express her emotions and feelings. What are your future goals for the Healthy Minds Project? As it’s a relatively new project, we have lots of future goals - the main one is to reach as many children who need our help as possible and provide lots of fun and joy while they are going through a tough time. Other goals include creating, sourcing, and running more training sessions so that volunteers are fully equipped and informed, and creating more opportunities for the volunteers to get together to receive support from us and their peers. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and what you enjoy about your role at Befriend a Child? I worked at Befriend a Child initially as a Coordinator, moved organisations for a couple of years and came back to the team over a year ago. I’m excited to be back and involved in the new Healthy Minds project. My favourite part of my job is getting to hear all the lovely stories from the befrienders about what they’ve been up to with their befriendee. I’m also a befriender and have been spending time with the same young person for the last 5 years - we have lots of fun together. Outside of work, I enjoy cooking, trying new places to eat, and watching box sets. For more information about Befriend a Child’s befriending programme or volunteering opportunities please head to the ‘How we help’ and ‘Volunteering’ sections on our website.