Young riders’ mental health comes into the spotlight

  • THE importance of educating young people more about mental health has been discussed, as the Pony Club announces an increased focus on mental health and wellbeing.

    Since the pandemic, youth mental health charity Beyond has reported a 173% increase in mental health issues in children aged 16 and under. An NHS England survey published in March 2021 reported that 39.2% of six- to 16-year-olds and 52.5% of 17- to 23-year-olds had experienced deterioration in their mental health since 2017.

    Riders Minds, which recently secured charitable status, can now offer support to people of all ages via its resources, including a live chat and text service. Victoria Wright, who co-founded the charity with her husband Matthew, who took his own life in February 2021, told H&H it’s “so important” to educate people of all ages about mental health and wellbeing and described the Beyond figure as “disturbing and shocking”.

    She believes more could be done in schools, especially in physical education classes, which she says should cover the mental health aspect of sport.

    “If someone is struggling with their mental health, it is important to take that first really brave step and tell someone how they are feeling. If they can’t speak to a friend or their family, Riders Minds is there to help and support,” she said.

    “We know it’s not always easy to talk, but our chat and text service is safe to use from behind a screen so a young person can speak to a trained professional anonymously without having to tell anyone. If they can’t say it verbally, they can write a letter or leave a note to a parent. Sometimes it’s easier than having a face-to-face.”

    Victoria said that this year Riders Minds will be campaigning for more mental health education in colleges and through the apprenticeship scheme, as well looking to work “much more closely” with the Pony Club and governing bodies to support them in providing mental health support for members.

    Pony Club chief executive Marcus Capel told H&H that this year the organisation is increasing its focus on mental health and wellbeing. The Pony Club is designing mental health-specific achievement badges, to add to its existing wellbeing badge, and is reviewing its tests to include increased awareness of mental health.

    “We are being very open in the Pony Club about addressing mental health from all ages. With all the pressures on young people from school exams and peer pressure, we know being around horses and ponies can be a lifeline for them,” he said.
    “I think you can’t be too young to talk about it, but with younger children it might be discussing what makes them happy and that it’s OK to talk and who they can talk to. With increased focus on horse and pony welfare and what is needed to keep them happy, it gives a natural pathway to talk about our needs as humans.

    “Schools are very good, but often the leisure time might be when a young person has that relationship with a person who’s not across a desk. It sometimes can be easier to talk to a friend in the Pony Club, an instructor or another parent and these things can’t be overestimated in their value to a young person’s life.”

    Sylvia Bruce, a mental health counsellor who works with Riders Minds, told H&H any organisation that deals with young people has a part to play in educating them on mental health. And she said it was “brilliant” to hear about the Pony Club’s plans.

    “If a child goes to a school that doesn’t have the resources or the manpower to provide that education, then if they’re getting it from the Pony Club or any other club they belong to, then that’s fantastic and they’re not missing out,” she said.

    “The kids of today are our future, let’s educate them so as they grow up, we change the culture around mental health. There are a lot of issues around fear and the more we know about things, the less fearful we are, so by educating young people we might stand a chance of people speaking up sooner.”

    Ms Bruce added that people need to understand the difference between the definition of mental health and mental ill-health and that the use of language around the topic is important.

    “Mental health is an umbrella term – we all have mental health. Mental health is your emotional, psychological, physiological and social wellbeing,” she said. “It’s great that mental health is being spoken about and since Covid, it has been brought to a much higher level of awareness. But we need to be aware of the language becoming less meaningful – and this then circles back to educating people as to what mental health is and isn’t.

    “Mental ill-health, such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD [Post-traumatic stress disorder], are treatable so they’re not to be feared. We need to raise our own awareness of what ‘my’ experience of being OK is. Then we can recognise when we’re not having a good day – or whether it’s something else and what we can do for that.

    “We need to recognise signs earlier and speak out earlier, so people don’t plummet to a place where they think there is no way out.”

    A spokesman for The Tomorrow Project, which provides a suicide crisis service and support to anyone who has been bereaved or affected by suicide, told H&H suicide rates among young women are among the fastest growing in recent years.
    “Research is showing us the mental health of women and young people has been particularly affected during the pandemic,” she said.
    “These groups need to be prioritised to ensure that they receive the appropriate and tailored support that will meet their specific needs.

    “Life can be difficult for everyone at times, but with the right support it can get better. No matter how big or small you think your problems are, it is OK to ask for help. We can help.”

    For support and further information visit: www.ridersminds.org and www.tomorrowproject.co.uk.

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