An interview with Lindsey Meeks

What is your job title and what does that mean?

My job title is Youth Support Worker, which means I work on our Youth Team supporting the young people in our homes in a variety of ways.

What does your day to day role look like?

Every day is different! As much as you try to plan your day things do change. As well as the usual youth club team work where we plan holiday activities I also work with the Youth Offending Team (YOT), where I am a panel member. As a panel member I regularly meet with a young person who has offended as an alternative to putting them in custody. The panel works with the YOT in writing referral orders for young people. I liaise with social services, YSMART, Devon County Council and make referrals to CAMHS as well as writing safeguarding reports. 

I provide 121 support for young people and their families with planned goals and targets, and signpost them to agencies such as Positive People to help them get back on track. I also train weekly at our gym sessions for young people to stimulate their endorphins and keep them fit.

Why and how did you become a youth worker?

After 10 years of service as a Police Officer I left Thames Valley Police as I felt criminalising young people and vulnerable adults for minor crimes was the wrong way to tackle and prevent their reoffending. 

I became more interested in the causal factors of crime and furthered my knowledge by studying a degree in criminology. I moved away and started a fresh here in sunny North Devon and felt that youth work would be my next adventure.

What do you enjoy about being a youth worker?

You never quite know what challenges you are going to be met with. I really like being to help young people, support them through troubled times and see them blossom.

What issues do you come across as a youth worker?

After being in the police and having certain powers such as the ability to have information about people easily accessible I have found it frustrating how youth workers aren’t privy to much information at all! We have to do our own investigations and work extremely hard to build a relationship and help the best way we can with all young people and their families; yet we are faced with barriers when sometimes other agencies will not share information.

What themes do you cover at youth clubs and why?

We cover all sorts! Mental health is a huge umbrella – depression, anxiety, self-harm, body image, relationships, being safe, drugs, alcohol us, bereavement, criminal activity, being active, healthy eating, growing up, cyber crime and the use of social media. We cover whatever we think is prevalent at the time with the young people.

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

I work more on a 121 basis and in smaller groups as simply that is my strength and I really enjoy that part of my work. I do believe young people engage well with me and that the relationships I have with the guys is a good one. I feel that they trust me and know that I will always do my best to help provide advice and support about anything when I can; which in turn makes me feel good about the work I do as well.

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

Mental health is discussed more than it ever has been as far as I am aware. This should be seen as a positive. My concern is that young people are vulnerable to accessing all manner of behaviours mainly through the internet and social media. 

This leaves some young people to follow these behaviours and identify the problem inaccurately, which then becomes a self fulfilling prophecy and eventually true. They label themselves as suffering from mental health when in actual fact they maybe just be struggling with adolescence and growing up. The transition from a young person to adulthood can be challenging. Mental health is a serious subject and not just a trend for young people. Research has demonstrated that there is a correlation between the use of social media and depression. The visibility online can be damaging allowing us to present our own sense of filtered reality of what we want to show; this ultimately becomes a benchmark for critical analysis of their own successes and failures in life. This could lead to exacerbating a young person’s mental health and increasing their low self esteem. Furthermore a young person who spends too much time using social media in the world that social media creates could make it much harder for a young person to cope in the real world that is vastly greater. 

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

A young person has a drug addiction and has been in trouble with the police for drug related offences. He was a target for county lines and has been threatened by drug dealers. He, due to his cannabis use, suffers from psychosis and struggles with maintaining a happy outlook unless under the influence of drugs. His family relationships broke down and now a young adult, he is unable to drive due to frequent drug use and recorded Mental health problems.

I have supported him for my entire employment as a youth worker, attended YSMART meetings with him, mental health assessments, assisted him in police custody and found him employment. No offences have been committed for a year and he has held down a job for a year now. His mental health will improve when he can beat his drug addiction. 

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

Speak to somebody and don't struggle on your own and if it’s someone you know do the same, let someone you trust know about their problems.

Anything else to add about mental health?

We teach our young people to be proud of who they are and to be their beautiful unique selves. If they are unhappy about any aspect and wish to change their body image, as long as it’s safe we will support them. The gym training teaches young people to maintain healthy weights and eat healthily as well as getting them to feel the natural happy drug we produce through exercise, endorphins. Exercise is key to a lot of people’s lives in managing mental health.