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The 21 year old helping young people deal with mental health

INSPIRING: Vanessa Boachie

MENTAL HEALTH problems have been on the rise over the last few years, and has become the second leading cause of death amongst 15-29 year-olds through suicide (World Health Organisation, 2016).

To respond to the mental health problem, 21 year-old Psychology graduate, Vanessa Boachie, from east London started the organisation Inside Out UK, which facilitates many mental health conversations from creatives, entrepreneurs, philanthropists and others who have been invited to share their experiences of their mental health challenges in and out of the UK’s mental health ‘system’ through performing arts- all aimed to educate and inspire.

What inspired you to create Inside Out UK and get involved with mental health awareness?

There are quite a few reasons why I created Inside Out UK; I’ve always been interested in mental health, but I believe the starting point was when I studied Psychology at A-level and then at university. I really enjoyed learning more about the human mind and behaviour, but also during that time I experienced some mental health challenges.

Someone I was very close to attempted to take their own life in front of me on more than one occasion and that was an extremely difficult experience. I do believe the support system and the understanding I had about mental health did help us to get through the difficult times.

The statistics are telling us that more and more young people are developing mental health problems which can lead to severe mental health disorders, and I don’t believe the authorities have been doing enough on prevention. Although mental health problems cannot be entirely prevented, there are things we can all do to reduce our risk of developing severe mental health conditions. So if I am in a position where I can help, then by all means.

As someone in there early 20s and from an African background – how do you feel mental health was represented and explained to you?

Mental health is definitely something that the majority of people in the African culture typically underestimate the importance of and do not understand. Generally speaking, from their perspective if behaviour is abnormal then it is attributed to spiritual problems- either the person is a witch/wizard or possessed by a demon. I've even witnessed this stigma when I went to visit a mental health home for children and adolescents in Ghana a few years ago. Most of the young people there had been disowned by their families and kicked out onto the streets because their families thought they were witches/wizards, and that's very heart breaking!

I believe this mindset stems from the fact that they simply do not understand, they haven't been educated about mental health so they are explaining things through what they know, and that's another area that needs to be tackled.

What can we do to further challenge the perception of mental health and continue to raise awareness?

Education. Education. Education. Specifically, psychoeducation as this provides clearer understanding of mental health, mental health disorders and why it is very important. Psychoeducation needs to be accessible to everyone in schools, colleges, universities, workplaces, places of worship etc.

This is what Inside Out UK is all about, what we do is merge psychoeducation with creativity to educate, engage and entertain through our events programmes and activities.

What advice could you give to other young BME people who are interested in starting their own organisations and/or businesses?

Whatever ideas you have for your organisation and/ or business, go for it! You are still young so do not be scared to fail, especially at this point. If something does not go the way you planned, it’s all a learning curve – you can learn from it and improve. Just be prepared to work very hard, especially because of the negative stereotypes around young BME people, we have to work ten times harder for people to take us seriously.

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