An interview with Leigh Gadson

What is your job title and what does that mean?

I’m a Youth Support Worker and I work on the Youth and Community Team. I work with young people, running our youth clubs, preparing activities and deal with support issues as they arise with the young people.

What does your day to day role look like?

You never know what will happen, sometimes a young person who you think is happy and content will tell you they are depressed and / or anxious, or that at home things have gone “pear shaped” or how stressed they are at school about exams, or that they are being bullied. This is not an isolated number of young people, a considerable number seek our help and advice.

Why and how did you become a youth worker?

I originally worked as a teaching assistant in Essex, when I moved I saw this job advertised and decided to apply. I am very thankful that I did apply, as I have realised this job is what I want to continue to do in the future. I have been working as a youth worker for nearly 5 years now; it gives me such job satisfaction.

What do you enjoy about being a youth worker?

I love helping young people and being able to support them through difficult times, it’s great knowing that you can make a difference in a young person’s life.  Seeing young people develop over the years and go onto achieve apprenticeships / jobs is a lovely things to witness and to be able to help provide support to help enable them to be confident in doing so.

I love all the summer holiday activities that are provided and the fact that they are free to all young people. I like that everyone is included and can have the opportunity to do things they may not be able to do otherwise due to being in families that struggle financially.

What issues do you come across as a youth worker?

As a youth worker I have come across a whole range of different issues such as:

  • Mental health - anxiety, depression, self harm, eating disorders
  • Bullying, Cyber-Bullying
  • Drugs, Alcohol related issues 
  • Family poverty 
  • Broken down families
  • Unhappy households
  • Loneliness in “real life”
  • No self confidence or self esteem
  • No coping mechanisms to handle today’s world
  • Very low resilience

What themes do you cover at youth clubs and why?

  • We have covered many topics within mental health and through partnership working with the NHS we have helped to create young mental health champions
  • Drugs and alcohol themes
  • Online safety
  • Healthy eating - cooking, some young people only have a proper cooked meal at youth club and usually come to youth club very hungry.

These activities tackle many issues and are carefully designed into sessions at youth club. To an outsider looking in it seems everyone is just having fun but a lot goes on beneath the surface.

Do your young people relate to you and engage with you?

I feel that the young people do really relate to me and are able to come to me to chat about any subject. It is so important to be approachable for the young people this way they know they can talk to you about anything they need too.

I am a positive person and I treat all young people equally.

Trust is very important as for some young people you may be the only person in their lives that they fully trust. Respect is also very important and works both ways; you show the young people respect and they do the same for you.

Sometimes young people don’t get affection anywhere else and will just come to club for that reassuring hug and have a chat, this could be the only affection from an adult they have. One of the most important skills to have is to be able to listen to all young people non judgementally. 

Do you find young people suffer with mental health issues more than other generations?

Young people today have very different lives than the older generation had at the same age; the digital world has taken over their lives bringing new stress that no one expected. For example social media, young people have to have a certain amounts of likes on a picture or they will delete it straight away. There is so much pressure when it comes to social media. Making real time friends is actually very hard for many young people as they only know how to make friendships online, through gaming etc.

I have also worked with some of the young people whose families who suffer with mental health issues. This in turns adds extra stress onto some of the young people’s daily lives, such as caring for a mum who has severe mental health issues.

Give an example of a mental health issue that you’ve been able to help with?

I have helped a young person who was contemplating suicide, this was a very scary time knowing how low this young person was and how they no longer wanted to be here. Being able to help and support the young person through this difficult journey and seeing their progress months on is very rewarding.  There was no other service to help us deal with the issue they were presenting, we tried everything but were told the thresholds for support had not been reached.

I have also witnessed a young person coming to youth club having just self harmed and had to provide first aid. It is very shocking to see this, you have to stay calm and not judge the young person for doing what they have done, but be able to support and advise them to enable them to hopefully stop self harming. That young person has told us if it was not for youth club they would not have been able to stop self harming.

What tips would you give to anyone who’s suffering or has someone who is suffering with a mental illness?

Talk to someone you trust, a youth worker, friend, colleague, teacher anyone you feel you can speak too. This is the first step to getting the help; there are also handy websites if they don’t feel like talking to someone face to face. You can find these resources at:

Anything else to add about mental health?

The young people created radio shows on mental health related matters; you can find them on our Facebook page this week during Mental Health Week. They were fantastic shows that were planned, devised and created all by the young people to help support other young people through these difficult times.

The issue we face with mental health is that there is not any support until young people reach crisis point which sadly means they have to attempt suicide to meet the threshold for support.  Even the young people are aware of this and make comments such as “I’m not depressed enough to get support” “I need to actually try and kill myself before anyone will listen to me”.