Local support group seeks to help students struggling with depression and bullying

By - Wednesday 10th July, 2013

In the first part of a two-part interview, Matt Woosnam talks to Aidan McNulty, inspiring founder of the TalkEasyTrust, a mental health support charity

“Community.” Aidan McNulty, the founder of the TalkEasyTrust describes what he sees the charity as being about as this. The TalkEasyTrust is a small charity based in the Sutton area backed by local MP, Tom Brake, and run by a group of sixth form students who seek to support fellow school pupils, particularly those who suffer from depression and other mental health issues.

At the age of just 17, Mr McNulty has proven himself to be an inspiration to many of his peers and those who know him. Having set up the trust in November 2012, the John Fisher school pupil’s embryonic idea has developed into something far greater courtesy of dedication and hard work, as well as a link with newly formed mental health charity, MindFull.

The TalkEasyTrust provides a support and advice service to school pupils. The original members have received two days’ training with regards to providing support and at the John Fisher school there is a drop-in session whereby students can speak to someone of a similar age to them, about any troubles they may be having. The trust does however operate in eight schools in the local area, and is seeking to expand through training students in these schools to provide the same service.

Aidan McNulty, founder of the TalkEasyTrust

Discussing the formation of the trust, he explained that the idea originally developed from his own experiences with regards to anxiety and exam stress in year 10, whilst a local suicide was a catalyst for the evolution of the trust.

When asked what the aim of the trust is, he responded that it is “to help as many people as possible”. It also aims to start training other students to better understand mental health, and to “provide help and support to the people that need it most.”

The seventeen-year-old cites his girlfriend, Jodie Barreiro, also a founder member of the trust, as one of his biggest inspirations with the project. They have both struggled with their own troubles in the past and they noted that Jodie “had no help or support, so [they] decided that something needed to be done [to help others] because there was very little information about mental health.”

Receiving a phone call to confirm that he would be appearing on BBC Newsnight he explained how the trust came about from a simple idea to a very genuine and active charity. “We emailed BeatBullying but were quoted a large sum of money for them to provide us with training.” However, following an explanation that the trust was only in its infancy, and thus only had limited funds, their email was forwarded to an organisation called MindFull, whom they have been associated with since. MindFull consequently provided support with the training required to create a trust that supports students, as well as sourcing the professional councillors who take on issues which are deemed to be more severe.

It seeks to empower those who are suffering at the hands of depression and bullying

Not content with resting on their laurels, the trust is looking to expand by providing its own training, rather than relying on MindFull. “We want to give people the skills to mentor people who want to make a difference.”

So it is apparent that the trust is not solely about supporting people within schools, but it is also about training people to take this support on a regional and, eventually, national level. It seeks to empower both those who are suffering at the hands of depression and bullying, but also those who are looking to make a difference through supporting those people.

Certainly, although the TalkEasyTrust is still finding its feet, there are plans afoot to increase in size. “We’re in the process of growing, as we currently operate in eight schools across the [Croydon/Sutton] area, but we would love to operate across the nation.” When asked if the trust had plans to link with other charities or organisations, the reply was an interesting one. Mr McNulty claimed that he is “like Steve Parish [Crystal Palace FC co-chairman], always open to approaches and will never shut the door.” He exemplifies this by discussing how the trust is currently linked with MindFull, whilst they also have a close relationship with Off  the Record (OTR) Bristol and a grassroots suicide prevention organisation in Brighton. “We would probably agree to link with a charity” he declares.

If we provide each other with good quality one-to-one care, we can improve one another’s emotional well-being

The links with other organisations and charities within the mental health sector are absolutely vital to the continuing success of the TalkEasyTrust, due to the information which can be shared, alongside the greater experience of those partners. “We are lucky to be associated with [MindFull] they’ve inspired us and really helped us.” Indeed, it has provided the trust with a foundation for their work. It has taken the skills which those involved in the trust provide and assisted in nurturing those skills. Ciaran Mcguirk explains how being involved with the trust has given him far more confidence than he previously held.

“For me helping set up the trust has improved my understanding of mental health. It has given me more confidence to try to do things, given me the ability to talk. I applied for head boy recently, but I probably wouldn’t have if I hadn’t set up the trust. It’s just given more confidence to change things, do things, and help people.”

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

That is what the trust is all about. Community. It’s about helping people, because, as stated by neurologist Dr Andrew Curran, regardless of what happens in the system, with the NHS and services, if we provide each other with good quality one-to-one care, we can improve one another’s emotional well-being. The uniqueness of the TalkEasyTrust is that it is a peer mentoring scheme which is run by students, for students. This is the crucial aspect in its success thus far. Whilst councillors and therapists cannot be replaced completely, the ability for young people to relate to each others’ experiences is vital, and when that is combined with good quality care, the psycho-emotional well-being of people can be improved, with or without professional care.

For a group of young people who have no previous experience in mental health or running an organisation, the progress made thus far has been nothing short of outstanding. They hope to arrange a TalkEasyTour, whereby they visit local schools with their councillors and deliver presentations as well as providing support for students who require it. The tour would seek to raise the funds required to expand the trust and hopefully recruit professional trained councillors of its own.

The trust is seeking to further diversify in the future with regards to expanding its target audience.  “We are eventually thinking about workplaces where counsellors go in and say it’s OK to talk. We would love to move into helping adults but it would require getting other people involved such as trained counsellors.”

The TalkEasyTrust has supported many students in the short time it has been operating, but is looking to increase its reach as far as possible.

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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