Youth Care - what to learn
October 20, 2011 4:20 AM   Subscribe

You're a young person, in your 20s or so, and you've noticed that quite a few of your similarly-aged peers & friends are in desperate need of care due to major mental and emotional health challenges - which are taking a toll on everything else. However, support services for this group are lacking. What could you learn or train in to be able to be a better source of support and care for your peer community?

As my last few AskMefi questions have demonstrated, I've lost a couple of close people to suicide this year. They've both been in their 20s, dealing with severe mental health issues for a long time (PTSD and bipolar disorder). They're not the only ones I know who are facing this, and I'd rather not lose more people to their own hands.

I've noticed that support for our age group is shockingly lacking, at least here in Australia (though I don't think my US-based cousin would have necessarily been better off). Some issues I've seen:

* There's training and services for childcare (up to about 15-16) and elderly care, but nothing in between
* Resources for those with disabilities tend to focus on the physical; there is some attention to psychiatric issues, but they need to be "Severe" - as it is my friends are having trouble finding adequate people to diagnose them (there has been some controversy about the local mental health system)
* They have just enough economic privilege to not be homeless and to be able to afford basic needs as well as the occasional indulgence - most youth programs tend to be geared towards homeless & severely disadvantaged people. However, many support systems available cost more money & time then any of us can afford. (A retreat I queried cost $30,000 for 3 weeks - that could pay expenses & then some for a year.)
* One service that does tend to be regularly accessed is checking into a mental hospital for a while, where you're under observation and there's a counselor and so on. It seems to be helpful, but they also often report being quite bored, mostly because their phones and Internet - their main means of access to the outside world - are taken away and they're not really left with much to do. For some of us, being actively involved in something is a HUGE help, and personally it's been the lack of Internet thing that's stopped me from checking in myself when I could have used it - the boredom would destroy me further (I'd be stuck in my head).
* My peer group tends to not be very trusting of Government and bureaucracy anyway, and for good reason - Centrelink (welfare) can often be painful and penalise you for trying to make things better for yourself, paperwork can be more extensive than possible, and some have been on the wrong end of the law just for protesting or not looking right

One of my good friends has a number of chronic physical conditions and at one point desperately needed food to be able to survive the next day. My friend and I were able to organise a supply for a few days, and we tried looking for places that will do this regularly for her. No one could help - they either needed her to provide more paperwork than she was able (she could barely even get out of bed), or had a months-long waiting list, or needed money, or just don't do emergency food supply. This really shocked both of us; we can't afford to care for her 24/7, even the menial Carer's Pay the Gov gives you won't be enough to cover either of our needs (not that I'd qualify anyway, being on a bridging visa), and yet it's obvious that if there isn't enough regular help she's likely the next to go.

I'm frustrated. I'm pissed. I'm worried. I want to learn how to provide better support, better care, organise better care. Even just knowing what to do in times of crisis would make a huge difference. I'd like to be the sort of person you'd find at Youngcare (residential care for young people who'd otherwise find themselves in aged care homes),

I do have basic First Aid training, though it could stand to have a refresher, and some experience with women's rights/sexual assault issues, but what else is there? I've looked at TAFE (think Australian community college) and they've got some courses in community care and youth work, though more in a larger societal sense. A friend suggests a combo of youth work and nursing, which could be useful, though I wonder if there's enough to cover mental health and emotional health. I'm also greatly open to more unorthodox community-based issues; I know there's been quite a bit of work in activist communities around healing justice, which I think would intersect with my peers very well. Even something like "learn how to manage a crisis line" would help.

Please help me be a better help to my community. I don't want to see another life fall down the cracks.
posted by divabat to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I'm so sorry about your friends, divabat.

I'm in Canada and we have similar gaps here. The one place I've become aware of that might offer these kinds of assistance or be aware of who does is the AIDS Service Organizations. They've dealt for years with a population of varying ages and income levels who often deal with mental health issues (sometimes a side effect of medication, but also a risk factor) and social exclusion. HIV touches such a complex set of issues that ASOs have to be quite versatile. I have found that they usually have a network of complementary organizations targeted at ethnic groups, immigrants, womens groups, lgbt groups, low income support groups, mental health advocacy and support, etc. If there are services available, your local ASO likely has some connection to them, as these organizations often need to work together or refer clients to each other.

I've also called a suicide line before when trying to figure out how to support a struggling friend and found their counsel quite useful. They may also be able to point you to some organizations or training.
posted by heatherann at 5:00 AM on October 20, 2011

Those gaps exist in the US as well, and even more so for LGBT youth and others who don't fit well into existing categories (eg sex workers), or who have multiple issues (eg both mental health issues and a serious physical illness).

As you've noticed in your experiences, helping someone in crisis is often, or almost always, a case of being able to connect them with the support they need (eg free food, crisis mental health care, long term medication, etc) rather than the mental health equivalent of having a splint and a bandage.

As such, I'd argue that the most effective role is more structural or institutional, rather than individual. In my very anecdotal experience that mostly means starting or working with an existing NGO to both advocate for and better serve those at-risk youths, but in other places that might mean working with or for a public agency.

In the US the most relevant degrees would probably be a masters of social work or a masters of public health, but the real skill is in learning to navigate the system. It's not highly paid or glamorous work, but case workers and community outreach workers do get paid to do exactly what you are describing.
posted by Forktine at 5:23 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I get that structural work is greatly needed, and thankfully there are organisations and people that are working towards that. Thing is, my friend with the chronic illnesses can't wait for the structures to be up before she gets her meds. Another friend still has to cross the bridge with her brain telling her to jump - and she can barely afford mental health care. There are some options, if you have the time & energy to do some investigating, but there are gaps when you least expect them (like the emergency food supply).

I'm thankful for those of you who are doing this work. People like us need you.
posted by divabat at 5:41 AM on October 20, 2011

Become an advocate for your friends. Take them to see the doctor when they need it, call helplines with them, keep track of what papers they need. As someone who has been similarly incapacitated by depression before, that was the best thing anyone could do for me.
Also -- don't fear the mental health clinic or hospital. I've never been, but close friends said that the enforced boredom and disconnect from friends and family is an important part of treatment. If someone needs serious help, they should go. The fact that there is no Internet is a feature, not a bug.
posted by OLechat at 5:58 AM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

You could train to be a politician or a minister. Leaders of men accomplish more than one man alone.
posted by myselfasme at 6:04 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I know this does not help you in the short term, but have you considered training in social work? You've identified a structural gap in services, and you seem to have an aptitude for it, as well as personal motivation. I'm not sure what MSW or equivalent programs exist in Australia, but it might be worth looking into. Do you already have a University degree?
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 6:38 AM on October 20, 2011

TheWhiteSkull: I do have a Bachelors of Creative Industries, and there are Masters of Social Work available in various places. I'm not sure I'm terribly suited for university study though (let's just say it's one of those things that make me require psychiatric care!).

OLechat: I kind of already am an advocate (as I mentioned earlier with the case of my chronically-ill friend) though I would like to know more about what is helpful and what isn't. Sometimes instinct isn't enough, y'know? It doesn't have to be full-on degree type things; just any skills that would come in handy in supporting a friend who's having a hard time dealing with life because her brain is driving her wild, or something.
posted by divabat at 6:51 AM on October 20, 2011

I wouldn't necessarily rule out an MSW. Check out different programs to see how they work, and whether or not they appeal to you. Look for programs that place an emphasis on the practical side. Don't think of it so much as university study, but rather as a means to acquire additional tools to help your friends and community.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 7:50 AM on October 20, 2011

Do you know about the Icarus Project? It sounds like the philosophy might be a good fit for your group of friends, although it sounds like some of them may have issues more serious than I'd feel comfortable addressing that way.

Take awesome care of yourself, too.
posted by momus_window at 9:30 AM on October 20, 2011

I'm in the US, but I volunteered for several months for my local Department of Human Services (the state agency that provides welfare, food stamps, medicaid, domestic violence assistance, etc.), and it was an incredibly valuable experience. Although I'd been a DHS client for years, their system had always been kind of unclear to me. They tend to only give you as much information as you need for your specific case at that specific time, and no more. But as an employee, I gained a deep understanding of the requirements for different DHS programs, what's involved in processing applications and awarding grants, and other resources open to DHS clients that I hadn't previously been aware of.

As a result I've been able to help several friends who were DHS clients, or considering applying for services, get the most out of the programs. Some people are so cowed by the complicated application process and the crowded offices that they don't even bother applying, so I was able to get them a copy of the form, help them fill it out, and explain to them in plain English what they would need to bring to their interview. I've also pointed them towards assistance programs they didn't know they were eligible for. I like to think my experience in that area has made me a valuable resource for my friends, because I've helped them get access to assistance they wouldn't have gotten for themselves otherwise.

By the way, I never provided any service to a friend as part of my work for DHS, which would be illegal.

If the services exist but there's a lot of red tape in the way, consider volunteering for those services to gain expertise, which you can then share with your friends who require the services and help them get help faster and more easily.
posted by milk white peacock at 9:37 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hit up the local Council as a volunteer in the Youth Department - Brisbane has Visible Ink, State Library, BCC and any number of smaller organizations. Volunteering is difficult, but it's a good way to get some skills to work out if it's an area you can do well in. Zigzag is a south side sexual assault counselling service that do great work as well. These are all the people to talk to about services as well, from crisis care to housing; if they don't provide, they usually have a lead on someone who does.

And I agree with the lack of Internet/phone being a feature not a bug. There are any number of I'll adaptive patterns rooted into communication that no matter how much of a lifeline the Internet may be, it's also an avenue for descent.
posted by geek anachronism at 5:45 AM on October 21, 2011

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