In my early days as an ambassador for DCF I had the privilege of visiting a veterans’ project, which reduced me to tears. Of all the projects I have visited it had the most profound effect on me and provided me with a greater understanding of the issues these brave individuals have to face. It was a truly humbling experience.
So I jumped at the chance to write this blog about how veterans are trained to become mentors and instructors to help young people with mental health disorders.
Mental health is such a complex and difficult issue to address and one causing even the brightest of minds to scratch their heads, and yet here we have a simple and effective solution provided by Battling On.
Battling On is a multi-award-winning Community Interest Company. It provides support to veterans struggling with the transition to civilian life but also trains veterans to become mentors and instructors, employing them to deliver educational programmes to some of the West Country’s most vulnerable young people. Helping people to help people – what a wonderfully poetic solution.
The veterans are taught instructional techniques whilst developing their understanding of the educational sector. This in itself has given the veterans confidence in their abilities, a recognised qualification and a reference which they can take forward into further training or employment.
Young people who are disadvantaged, who have disengaged from education or have become young offenders are involved in a series of activities that teach them techniques to improve their confidence and self-esteem. Participants are helped to become more emotionally resilient whilst learning coping strategies. Another programme also offers an open-door counselling service to young people who may otherwise have to wait months to see an NHS counsellor. The project helps to reduce their social isolation and has a wider benefit to the community, taking pressure off local NHS resources.
One such case was a young person suffering acute anxiety and depression. He had been admitted to hospital several times for self-harming and overdose. His background is chaotic and he was living in a hostel when he started on this programme. He was difficult to engage and was prone to outbursts of anger, where he would shout and lash out. His mentor worked with him to gradually overcome this, helping him learn the signs that meant his anger was building so he was able to manage it before it reached the explosive point.
He learned emotional language to be able to express himself verbally rather than physically and also learnt to channel his energy into physical activity, helping with his depression. On completion of the course he said: “I’m so glad I came on this course. I used to hate going out as I didn’t know if I would get angry and then get into trouble. My mentor helped me to find out ways of getting rid of my anger. Now I can feel it coming and find a place to let it out before it gets bad.” He has now started a training course in construction and has ambitions to be a plumber. There are also some unintended benefits of a synergy that develops between the young people and the veterans. Many of the veterans come from similar backgrounds to the young people and have had challenges in their lives. This has meant that they can relate to each other in a way that has promoted a very special and powerful symbiotic relationship, meaning that the young people trust the veterans quickly and are able to engage totally in the process.
So much of the work we do here at DCF is multifaceted and the deeper you dig the greater the benefits of charitable giving are. In this case the obvious beneficiaries are the veterans and the young people but look a little closer and you will see that there are wider benefits for society as a whole.
Nicola Hobson, DCF Ambassador