Amplifying Youth Voices! - Children and Young People's Mental Health Awareness Week 2024

Having space to share your voice and be heard is fundamental to the mental health and wellbeing of all individuals, with Carl Rogers a pioneering psychologist aptly stating, "Powerful is our need to be known, really known by ourselves and others, even if only for a moment." -Recognising this he made it a central aspect of the effective, supportive and transformative person-centred approach widely used in counselling today.

The approach highlights the importance of a non-judgmental space and the fostering of unconditional positive regard that allows a person to express themselves, share their thoughts, feel heard, empathetically understood, and validated. The presence of the person's voice and experience is so crucial to the space being therapeutic means this approach is predominantly client-led and with the counsellor not adding their subjective voice, but rather using their empathetic understanding of the client's frame of reference to reflect this back to the client so they process, connect with their inner-self, and build self-esteem and self-belief.

This is ever the more crucial for children and young people during development and transitions when exploring their social and self-identities and developing patterns of relating to themselves and others.

For a young person to feel confident in their voice and that it matters, they need to feel heard, but they rarely get this space to do so:

"Traditionally space is not provided for young people to share their voices, we are obliged to redress that because they are the future!" - Alexis, 42nd Street's Online Service Manager.

The team at 42nd Street and The Horsfall acknowledges the challenges that many young people face and that many young people feel disempowered, that some services are difficult for them to identify with and access and that their mental health and personal difficulties can be made worse by the health, social, cultural and economic inequalities that they might experience

Our commitment is to foster a space to make young people feel listened to, valued, included, safe and unique While understanding how crucial this is to supporting recovery and individual transformation, we also wish to highlight how essential it is that we start to build these spaces as a vital protective factor to promote resilience, good mental health, and wellbeing, supporting young people in building a solid sense of self and enabling them to meet their full potential.

"We think we listen, but very rarely do we listen with real understanding, true empathy. Yet listening, of this very special kind, is one of the most potent forces for change that I know." - Carl Rogers

Through our diverse Peer Support, creative, identity and action groups, we support young people in sharing their voices. We see this as a privilege, that provides reciprocal growth. Young people are most experienced in living in today's world at their age, and their voices are crucial in shaping a better future for children, young people, and society at large, and genuine listening is the key.

"We are not the experts on young people's lives and experiences, they are!
Young people have excellent insight into what they need from services, ensuring that young people's voices are heard is the best way to ensure those services work to meet those needs" - Alexis, 42nd Street's Online Service Manager

The person-centred approach highlights how there is an expert of experience and one of theory and skills, and 'expertise' can only be beneficially applied when a safe space has been created for the speaker to express their authentic voice. Where young people do not have to power to make changes, it is vital adults open these channels, create the space for collaboration and amplify their voice and advocate for these changes where needed!

Looking more closely at why providing young people with a space to share their voices is crucial:

Destination Validation to be listened to having a say in your plan


Validation and Empowerment: Offering a platform for young people to express themselves validates their thoughts, feelings, and experiences. This validation is empowering and helps build their confidence, self-esteem, and a sense of self-worth.

Enhanced Mental Well-being: Expression and communication are vital for mental well-being. When young people feel heard and understood, it can contribute to a positive mental health outlook, reducing feelings of isolation and fostering a sense of connection.

Tailored Support: Young people are the experts in their own lives. By providing a space for them to share their voices, we gain valuable insights into their needs, preferences, and challenges. This information is essential for tailoring support services to effectively meet their unique requirements.

Building Resilience: Actively listening to young people fosters resilience. When they know their opinions matter and that they can navigate through challenges, it contributes to the development of coping skills and the ability to bounce back from adversity.

Inclusive Decision-Making: Including young people in conversations and decision-making processes ensures that their perspectives are considered. This inclusivity not only empowers them but also leads to more well-rounded and effective solutions that address their concerns.

Promoting Social Change: Young people often hold innovative ideas and a fresh perspective on social issues. Providing them a space to voice their opinions allows for the exploration of new and progressive ideas, contributing to positive social change.

Cultural, Social, and Economic Equality: In many cases, young people face disparities in access to resources and opportunities. Providing a space for their voices helps address these inequalities by acknowledging and addressing the unique challenges they may encounter based on factors such as health, social, cultural, and economic backgrounds.

Prevention of Mental Health Issues: Allowing young people to express themselves and feel heard can act as a preventive measure against the development of mental health issues. It creates a supportive environment that encourages open communication about mental health concerns and challenges.

While providing space for young people to share their voices is fundamentally empathetic; it is a vital investment in young people's well-being, personal development, mental health and the overall health of our communities. Their voices are invaluable agents that can shape a more inclusive, understanding, and supportive society.

Using Art and creativity to support young people's voice

After 42 years of working alongside young people, one thing we recognise when creating spaces for young people is we need to do this innovatively and creatively, to provide varied options for expression and participation. 

At our Horsfall gallery, we use creativity and art to support young people's emotional wellbeing and mental health. One aspect of this is providing space for young people to explore themselves and their voices, and provide a platform for them to share what they wish.⁠ Creative space allows young people to express their voice, thoughts and feelings, through a medium that suits them and in the way they feel comfortable. ⁠Whether this is through the frequencies of music, the cadence of spoken word, the beauty of poetry, the freedom of visual arts or the movement of dance.⁠ ⁠ Time and time again, young people share the transformative benefits of this to them and society and the importance of showcasing young people's art.

 "If we don't showcase it how are we going to know what young people are experiencing and what they're thinking...what they're feeling." - Young Creative Mahdiyyah

"Creativity means expressing how you feel if you can't say it in words and it's important for me to be creative because it helps me focus, makes me feel happy and distracts me from what's going on around me" - Laraiya, Young artist participating in The Future Is Ours, 2023.