Ohemaa: How my social workers made me feel heard
Ohemaa is a resilient young mother, care leaver, from Ghanaian heritage, and is also on Frontline’s Young People’s Advisory Board. Children’s Mental Health Week holds special significance for her as she navigates her own mental health challenges, diagnosed at a young age. In a culture where mental health is a taboo topic, Ohemaa relied on the support of professionals, including teachers and social workers while she was younger.
Children’s Mental Health Week is important to me because I have faced challenges with my mental health and was diagnosed at a young age. I also have young children and I want them to know that if they were ever in the same position as me that I am in their corner supporting them.
As a young African girl mental health is such a taboo topic within my culture. So, growing up I relied on professionals around me such as teachers and social workers. When I first started my A levels I was struggling with one particular subject that I wanted to drop. When I tried to speak about it with my family, they told me that I had to continue, otherwise I wasn’t going to get into university. I felt so much pressure to do well at college, as none of my family have been to university. This really affected me mentally.
When I was in care and studying for my A levels, something happened to my brother which caused him to be hospitalised. This situation led me to become very distressed and I couldn’t focus as much as I wanted to in college. I didn’t know how to express what I was going through to anyone. My own family didn’t understand me, so how could these professionals who hardly knew me understand me? How would I be able to trust them?
Realising how this was affecting me over some time, I eventually decided to open up to my teacher and social workers. Their response was reassuring as they told me that I wouldn’t have to face this journey alone and that they would support me. They commended my openness, my strength and recognised the challenges I had been through as a child, and this meant so much to me. I felt understood and seen. I felt like a burden was lifted and I no longer had to carry it by myself. I realise now that if I hadn’t of spoken, I would’ve continued to struggle.
It’s extremely important for social workers to have compassion and empathy when supporting a child or young person with mental health challenges. It’s already hard to be open and honest, especially to someone you hardly know.
Here are three ways social workers can support children and young people who are going through challenging situations:
Provide a safe space – A lot of children in the care system do not have that. If a safe space is provided, they will appreciate it a lot more.
Prioritise relationship – Building trust and relationship is key and it works both ways. If you are not willing to try with a young person then why would they want to try with you?
Be yourself – Authenticity is key and children can sense insincerity. They are more likely to open up if you show them you are human first.
Children and young people do not want to feel judged. All I wanted was someone to listen to me, to know that my feelings were valid and that I matter. I am forever grateful to all my social workers and teachers for doing that for me.