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Student led initiative a growing success

Andrew Sutherland is working on a special project to reduce discrimination towards young people experiencing mental distress. 

In his previous jobs - at Child Youth and Family and the Kidsline helpline - he could see that young people were experiencing high levels of mental distress.

“Many young people don’t know how to access the services that are out there, or don’t feel able to talk when times are tough, which can lead to further mental distress. I wanted to find a different way to help young people express themselves,” he says.

So he leapt at the opportunity to take on a role at Zeal Education Trust working on one of Like Minds, Like Mine community projects, Live For Tomorrow Chapters.

Growing flourishing high schools

Live For Tomorrow Chapters have been running since 2015 and grew out of an earlier pilot project. The programme works with 24-7 YouthWork youth workers in 20 high schools across New Zealand establishing chapter groups of Year 11-13 students. 

Each chapter has around six-to-eight young people, many of whom have lived experience of mental distress or illness. They work together to create initiatives that make their school a more inclusive and empathetic place.

There are approximately 30 youth workers and 120 student members currently involved, reaching a total of 25,000 students in Christchurch, Auckland and Northland.

The programme works with each youth worker and their chapter group to make sure everyone involved has what they need.

“With an engaging training day and resources – including a detailed guidebook, a video training series, and specially designed artwork that resonates with students - we’re here to provide any other assistance required,” Andrew says. 

Supporting great moments of contact

It is the chapter members who are responsible for initiatives that encourage other students to think about positive mental health and ways to reduce stigma and discrimination.

Some chapters have run ‘stress free’ days, particularly during exam times. They lead or demonstrate activities or provide spaces that help to reduce some of the anxieties that students face at these times.

“A few chapters have created private social media platforms - similar to the Humans of New York campaign - featuring young people’s positive stories and images, as well as those that highlight their challenges,” Andrew says.

“Another chapter put together some wearable chalk sandwich-boards, inviting students to contribute their own thoughts as they walked around the school. They had an overwhelming response around things that spark happiness or stress in the students.”

Creating communities where people are respected and valued

One of the best parts of Andrew’s job is hearing about the positive stories and successes from each school. 

“The buy-in from chapter members is huge and seeing that moment when students grasp what the power of contact is all about – that is a great moment.”

Live for Tomorrow Chapters have grown quickly, but the programme has a model that is scaleable and adaptable to multiple locations and demographics. Andrew would like to see it expand into 10 new high schools by the end of 2017.

“Eventually we want to build a self-perpetuating culture of inclusion and empathy in New Zealand secondary schools where all young people are respected, valued and supported.”