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Saturday 08 April 2017

Finding Common Ground with our youth

Posted in: Living Well, Features
By Jacqui Stanford - 20th July 2015

New research shows just how important community and family networks are for young people going through a tough time, and a Government-backed website is offering useful tips on how everyone can have open conversations about gender and sexuality with youth.

The site includes a webseries episode looking at a teen confronting his attraction to other guys

Common Ground is a dedicated website for those helping troubled young people, which is part of the Prime Minister’s Youth Mental Health Project. It’s been developed with collaboration from a number of groups, including the Mental Health Foundation and Youthline.

Its creators have released research which shows 70 per cent of New Zealanders say they have helped a young person in their family, whanau, friendship circle or community who was going through a tough time.

The overwhelming majority of those surveyed, 74 per cent, said it’s the responsibility of the community, not just the immediate family, to support youth who are experiencing personal issues. However only 23 per cent said they felt they could help out a lot, with 15 per cent saying they would like to help but don’t know how or don’t feel equipped to.

“Mental health is not just up to the experts. If family, friends and communities reach out, then no-one needs to struggle alone. This research highlights that Kiwis do care, and with a little info and support all of us can make a difference,” says Dr Theresa Fleming, Auckland University Psychological Medicine senior lecturer and youth mental health advocate.

The Common Ground website provides free information, tools and tips that guide parents, families and friends to know what to look out for, say and do if they're worried about someone, and where to go for more help.

Information on sexuality and gender identity is included on the site

Project Manager Moira Clunie tells this includes how to have open conversations about gender and sexuality, and any pressures that a young person is facing related to their identity.

“It also includes tips about being supportive around coming out, connecting a young person with peer support, and recognising when they are facing discrimination at school or in the community.”

The site also provides space for readers to share their own ideas and experiences - what’s worked for them, or how they have helped someone. “Seeing and hearing how others have dealt with situations can reassure people that they’re not alone, or the only person dealing with challenging issues,” Clunie says.

She points out lgbti young people are more likely to face discrimination and social exclusion, which can contribute to higher rates of mental health problems including anxiety and depression. “Parents, families, friends and the community all play a vital role in identifying and supporting young people who are having a challenging time and possible facing mental health issues.”

Clunie says support, love and acceptance from family, friends and the wider community are some of the most important influences on lgbti young people living happy lives. “Research shows that positive school environments, supportive family members and having close friends are all linked with better mental health outcomes.

“And if you're going through a tough time, then it can really help to have the support of people around you who feel confident and prepared to help you.”

Among the resources Common Ground has released is a web series which included an episode on sexuality. It was written by Go Girls writer and former RainbowYOUTH staff member Sam Shore, and developed with young people to make sure that the situations and issues presented were real.

It stars Shortland Street's Beulah Koale as Gabe, a teenager who has recently become more aware of his attraction to other boys, and feels that there is no one around him who would understand what he's going through.

“We know that no one person has all the answers about how to support a young person to grow up well. The web series is designed to start conversations – to provide space to share experiences and find solutions,” Clunie says.

Jacqui Stanford - 20th July 2015

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