Local sixth form student hopeful of making a difference with mental health charity

By - Wednesday 17th July, 2013

Matt Woosnam concludes his interview with TalkEasy Trust founder Aidan McNulty, the first part of which you can find here

Tom Brake, MP for Carshalton and Wallington and a great help to the TalkEasy Trust. Photo by Liberal Democrats. Image used under Creative Commons License.

What exactly does the TalkEasyTrust do?

“We offer face to face peer support for students as well as training to be mentors. We work alongside a charity called MindFull which provides us with counsellors if the issues are more serious than we are trained for.”

Aidan McNulty goes on to discuss the idea of peer mentors and life mentors, explaining that a “20-year-old could speak to someone of their own age” who might be able to understand them better. This is what is described as a Life mentor.  Furthermore, there is an online system through the MindFull website called Mindshare. “Mindshare keeps a track of how you’re feeling, you fill out a survey each day about your mood and MindFull’s counsellors keep an eye on it.”

“It’s a bit like having a guardian angel.”

A guardian angel is something which so many young people could do with, someone to keep an eye on them from a distance but step in when required, potentially averting a crisis. The TalkEasyTrust acts as this guardian angel and allows people to openly talk about their feelings. Whilst they do not always deal with mental health issues, they can help to prevent them from developing through conflict resolution and discussing how people feel.

The trust was set up in November 2012, but how did it come about? “Most of it was a case of we’re all sitting here together and we want to do something. I had this idea, I kind of knew where I wanted it to go but the others moderated it and refined the ideas. We have grown quite rapidly.”

The training the trust received helped them to understand where the line is when it comes to supporting people.  Self harm and suicidal thoughts are issues which are too far for the trust to deal with and consequently are handed over to either their own counsellors in the future, but currently MindFull’s counsellors.

“Setting up the trust has given a great understanding of mental health. We want people to know that it’s OK to talk”

“Tom Brake has been amazing.” The MP for Carshalton and Wallington has been instrumental in assisting the trust. “[Brake] told us to go back and think of a new name because our original one was too restrictive, and he also recommended that we went to see other MPs. Gavin Barwell came to John Fisher School in April and he also helped us with his support and with our aims to expand.”

At this point in the interview, Mr McNulty received another phone call. This time, he was being told that he will be featured in The Times’ educational supplement for his work with the trust. It is clear that while he is the organiser and the leader of the trust, it is still very much a group effort.

“It’s about trying to build up platforms. Where do I see ourselves in a few years? We are taking it step by step, school by school, and we realise that we won’t go national overnight. We want to show schools the project helps, expand on a regional basis and then on a national basis.”

“Setting up the trust has given a great understanding of mental health. We want people to know that it’s OK to talk. If you’re going through something, then talk to people. I‘ve gone from being a novice to realising that I can help people. It has helped understand mental health more.”

The trust currently is involved at the following schools in the local area:

John Fisher
Carshalton Girls
Stanley Park
Carshalton Boys

It is seeking to get new schools involved, to branch out and expand into other schools in the region.

To do this, the trust needs to raise funds. “We are looking for external funding. There is government funding for most charities but we are hoping to get funding through the smaller organisations by showing them that the ideas we have are viable. Currently there are plans to hold an eighties night to get it off the ground.” Mr McNulty mentioned that although he has had to put some of his own money into the trust, he is happy to have done so, and will only seek to take it back should the members eventually take a wage from what would be a business. “Eventually we will get own financial streams, probably charging schools for our services and also for the tour.”

The TalkEasyTrust seeks to support students with depression, other mental health issues, and students who have experienced bullying.

When asked about how they will measure success, he responded: “if we can make one person happier then we’ve succeeded. We’re trying to work within the school community to encourage people to talk out and know that it’s OK to talk. It’s not embarrassing to suffer from a mental health problem.”

It is something which the trust does in an indirect way, but challenging the stigma around mental health is vital to ensuring the emotional well-being of students, and of course, adults. Once people realise that it is actually ok to talk about mental health, it has the potential to help many others, as well as themselves. If one person talks about how they feel, that contributes to breaking down the stigma, as it may lead to another person doing the same, and in turn someone else in a domino effect.

“It’s a bit weird going into a staff meeting and briefing them! … the number of teachers that came up to us afterwards and said we want to help you was amazing”

The trust is excited about the next six months, as it has continued to go from strength to strength, and has recently filmed an advert for its website, talkeasy.org.uk

“The next six months is looking exciting” said the seventeen-year-old, full of enthusiasm and hope, desperate to make a difference.

Matt will be appearing on ‘Diaries of a Broken Mind’ tonight (Wednesday 17th July 2013) at 9pm on BBC Three.

Matt Woosnam

Matt Woosnam

Matt Woosnam is a Kingston University student in his final year as a Politics & International Relations undergraduate. A campaigner on mental health he is the founder of @Talk_Out, as well as part of the TalkEasyTrust, and seeks to break down stigma by encouraging talking out. Matt is also an avid Crystal Palace fan and the online editor of Five Year Plan Fanzine, as well as a regular contributor to the Croydon Guardian.

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