Sarah Barber – “It feels great being respected and listened to”

Sarah describes herself as a mental health activist, so when the opportunity came to join the Young Commissioners programme with Youth Focus North East, it seemed like an obvious fit. Sarah, 20 at the time, reflected on her experience working with us, and colleagues at the Newcastle Gateshead Clinical Commissioning Group. Her’s Sarah’s story in her own words.

“I came across the Young Commissioners programme when looking for some voluntary opportunities for young people. When I saw it I thought it was perfect for someone like me who was interested in mental health, both from brief personal experience and also from friends around me, and thought it would be a great way to get involved in improving mental health services for young people. I’m also a mental health ambassador at school so that ties in really nicely. As a group we help influence commissioning services and so what’s been fantastic about the programme is that we get to talk to people on both sides of the system- those who design mental health services and those who experience mental health services, which means it’s all really balanced. The most common complaint we hear from both sides is the far too long waiting times, which can damage the mental health for service users, and therefore reduce the chances of successful treatment from the point of view of the professionals.

I was worried that we wouldn’t be taken seriously, but we have had such fantastic feedback from everyone. The local CCG and city council really listen, and actually want to listen, to what we have to say. It feels great being respected and listened to. If you’re looking at something to do with young people, who’s going to know better than young people themselves? It makes perfect sense to us. The reaction from my friends when they heard about me doing the programme was positive as well, and I’ve noticed that people my age are more comfortable talking about mental health than they used to be. I think the biggest problem confronting young people with mental health problems is that all too often they’re not listening to or taken seriously. Some of my friends have been told they’re just ‘going through a phase’ or to ‘sleep it off’. This attitude is not helping and in so many cases it’s making the problem worse. If young people’s problems aren’t legitimised, then how can things get better? The programme has been a fantastic opportunity to speak at events with important people, influence decision making and just be part of the wider conversation.”