A packed audience of over 500 representatives from education, health, local councils and the voluntary sector came together to put the spotlight on mental health at a major HeadStart Wolverhampton conference this week.
Aimed at teachers, health professionals and voluntary sector staff who work with children and young people, it focused on how they can help young people to improve their resilience and wellbeing.
Around a tenth of 15-year-olds have a diagnosable mental health condition, and the conference formed part of a national debate about how to prevent the development of serious, often lifelong, mental health difficulties in young people.
The audience enjoyed a top class line up of presentations, including keynote speeches from Ruby Wax OBE who used her own experiences of depression to break down the stigma associated with mental health, Paul McGee, who applied the lessons of his SUMO (Stop, Understand, Move On) approach to supporting professionals and young people, and mental health ambassador Dr Pooky Knightsmith who shared practical strategies and resources to improve the mental wellbeing of young people.
There were also a fantastic range of workshops hosted by national organisations Young Minds and Time to Change and by experts in their field including Kay Price, Claire Birkenshaw, Ken Corish and Alison Cope.
The conference, at Wolverhampton Racecourse on Tuesday, concluded with a showcase featuring eight community organisations working with or supported by HeadStart Wolverhampton. It included dance, music, drama, personal testimonies, films showcasing their work with young people and presentations on the impact of HeadStart.
Kevin Pace, HeadStart Programme Manager, said: “The HeadStart Wolverhampton Conference was everything we hoped it would be.
"It was fantastic to be able to bring together, in the City of Wolverhampton, such a diverse range of professionals to learn, share and network in support of HeadStart’s aims of breaking down the stigma around mental health in our society.
"I know that the delegates who attended will return to their organisations reinvigorated and ready to apply what they’ve learned to improving the lives of the young people they work with every day.
"The young people who presented, performed, and shared their testimonies during the conference, and during the incredible community showcase that followed it, did themselves, their community organisations and the City of Wolverhampton proud.
"As she left, Ruby Wax told us, 'You have a wonderful programme, now go save the kids!', which is exactly what we aim to do."
Councillor Val Gibson, the City of Wolverhampton Council’s Cabinet Member for Children and Young People, said: “There was a tremendous response to the HeadStart Wolverhampton conference, and I am delighted that so many professionals were able to contribute to the mental health debate, share good practice and develop new ways to support children and young people – indeed, such was demand for tickets that we probably could have filled the Racecourse twice over.
"It was wonderful to hear from such brilliant keynote speakers as Paul McGee, Dr Pooky Knightsmith and of course Ruby Wax OBE, and to take part in the excellent range of workshops, and I would like to pay tribute to the young HeadStart Ambassadors Megan Williams, Hannah Rooney and Cristina Wilde, who compèred the whole event so well.
“We now want the frontline professionals to take the learning and innovative ideas talked about at the conference back into their work with our City's children and young people.”
HeadStart Wolverhampton, funded through The Big Lottery Fund, is a “test and learn” programme designed to improve the resilience and emotional well-being of children and young people aged 10 to 16 by giving them the skills they need to cope with life’s challenges. To find out more about HeadStart, please visit www.headstartonline.co.uk, follow @headstartfm on Twitter or log on to www.facebook.com/headstartfm.
Photos, links, slides, video, and podcasts from Tuesday’s conference can be found on the HeadStart website at www.headstartonline.co.uk/conference2017.