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Supporting Young People's Mental Health

21 March 2024
Reading time 7 mins

The work of Visyon, a charity for young people, shows the power and potential of community-focused approaches in helping to mitigate the effects of a ‘pandemic of anxiety’ and the suffering caused by Adverse Childhood Experiences.


Words by Fiona Thompson
Photography by Shoayb Khattab

“We’re providing something vital that’s often missing from young people’s lives” says Beverley Goodwin, Therapeutic Client Team Leader at Visyon. “We take the time to listen to children and really understand what’s going on for them.

“In today’s busy, fast-paced world, teachers rarely have time to listen to children. And even well-intentioned, loving parents often don’t have time or feel out of their depth. Visyon provides that listening ear.”

Visyon supports the emotional health of children, young people and their families in Cheshire East by offering counselling, mentoring, creative groups, therapeutic groups and parent support. The charity was set up in 1994 as a community response to three local adolescent suicides, and now supports around 1,600 young people a year.

Visyon offers one-to-one counselling for young people aged 11–18, which typically involves six to 12 sessions. Its Wellbeing Team provides a mix of one-to-one and group support to young people, including mentoring and creative sessions. Meanwhile, the Families and Communities Team offers support to families and parents, as well as training for schools.

Post Covid-19 and in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis, Visyon is seeing a “pandemic of anxiety”, which is manifesting in a sharp increase in demand for its mental health services. “Following the pandemic, many children have found it hard to go back to school and carry on as before,” says Sam Ruck, Head of Therapeutic Services at Visyon. “Many are struggling to cope.”

“The cost-of-living crisis has added to the pressure, too. The families we see often don’t have money for holidays or days out. Some of the lightness has gone from life.”

“Before the pandemic, nationally one in nine young people were likely to experience mental health issues. Now, that figure has increased to one in six. At Visyon, in 2018, we were logging 29% of the young people we saw as ‘at risk’. By April 2020, that had jumped to 50%. Now it’s 61% of the young people we see.”

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It’s not just the numbers of young people at risk that are growing. Visyon is also seeing a change in the issues presented and the age groups affected.

“We’ve really noticed a difference,” says Sam. “The most common issues are anxiety, relationships with friends and family, pressures from school and self-esteem. But we’re also seeing an increase in reports of self-harm and suicidal thinking. Before the pandemic, the average age of children who were self-harming was 15–16 years old. We are now seeing an increase in self-harm in the 12–13 age group.”

The Leathersellers’ Foundation has recently provided funding of £15,000 a year for four years for Visyon, as well as an additional £15,000 in recognition of the cost-of- living crisis.

The Foundation has given this funding as part of its commitment to tackling Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). ACEs are a recognised set of traumatic experiences, such as abuse. When young people experience multiple ACEs before the age of 18, it has a lifelong impact on their future life chances, physical and mental health.

“Focusing our charity main grants on ACEs, a high need area, means our funding is changing the lives of some of the most at risk children and young people in the UK” says Natalia Rymaszewska, Head of Grants at The Leathersellers’ Foundation.

“Evidence shows that an individual with six or more ACEs has a life expectancy that is 20 years lower than average. The intensive support and interventions provided by charities such as Visyon can break that cycle, giving that person a lifetime of greater opportunity ahead.”

“All of our work comes together to build a supportive environment around the child.”

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Emily, 15, is one of the young people in Cheshire East who has benefited from Visyon’s services. When Emily was experiencing struggles with social anxiety and panic attacks, her doctor referred her to the charity.

Emily talked to a trained advisor in Visyon’s Initial Contact Team, who put her in touch with one-to-one and group support.

“I attended some anxiety workshops and met other young people like me” says Emily. “It helped me learn ways to help myself when I was feeling anxious. I was also offered some counselling appointments where I could talk more personally about my anxiety and panic attacks.”

Alongside this, Emily’s parents took part in Visyon workshops and webinars, which gave them a better understanding of how to support their daughter withher anxiety.

As a result of Visyon’s support Emily has gained confidence and coping skills. She says: “I achieved my goal of wanting to feel more confident going out with friends.”

Beverley explains how Visyon’s work helps create a supportive network around young people. “Everything we do plants little seeds of support that help young people to thrive” she says. “It could be one-to-one counselling with the young person, webinars for parents or training in schools.

“We run training workshops for teachers and educational staff on mental health and wellbeing, working in a trauma-informed way and helping children to build their resilience. All of our work comes together to build a supportive environment around the child.”

Funding from Leathersellers is enabling Visyon to help prevent and reduce the occurrence of the long-term negative consequences of ACEs by providing therapeutic services to children and young people.

As well as paying for part of Beverley’s post as Therapeutic Client Team Leader, the Leathersellers’ grant is also funding training for Visyon staff in ACEs and working with children and young people using a trauma-informed approach.

In addition, the funding has enabled Visyon to offer training to other organisations across Cheshire East. “I’m really pleased that we’ve developed a full-day training session that’s going out to education staff, the police, health professionals and social workers,” says Beverley. “It means we can cascade knowledge to the wider community that will support children and young people.”

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The Leathersellers’ funding is particularly valuable to Visyon as it is flexible and not tied to a particular project, which is relatively unusual in the grant-giving world.

“It’s so important to us to have unrestricted core funding,” says Sam. “It means we can use the Leathersellers’ grant for different areas such as training, safeguarding and risk management, which are vital to our charity. We’re able to become a resource for other professionals in the areas where we work and to share that expertise much more widely.

“There aren’t many funders like the Leathersellers. They’re so collaborative. And the fact that it’s multi-year funding is amazing as it helps us to plan ahead.”

Theresa Pass, Visyon CEO, comments: “The Leathersellers really engage with those they support and they understand the challenges the sector is facing. Offering opportunities to meet other funders is invaluable in raising awareness of what we do, particularly as a regionally based charity. The Leathersellers are leading the way in helping the sector to develop services by thinking beyond project-based and short-term funding.”

Looking ahead, Visyon plans to devote some of the Leathersellers’ funding to training its staff in dealing with vicarious trauma and supporting the parents of children under 12 who are self-harming. It’s also delivering training in the wider community on the ‘Trio of Vulnerabilities’, where a young person lives in a home where there’s poor parental mental health, substance misuse and domestic violence.

As Sam points out, “By upskilling our team, parents, and our community, we can improve many different touchpoints so that children and young people get the help they need when they need it most.”