This blog series is a focus on people who are working to make a difference. Whether it be on the web or in their local community, by whatever means of action, and no matter what the initiative is, these individuals striving to make whatever change are not on all occasions acknowledged their goodwill and encouragement towards others.
Through these portraits, I intend to illustrate that whomever that is aspiring to make a difference, no matter how tiny, has the power to do so.
NAOMI LEA — MENTAL HEALTH CAMPAIGNER & VOLUNTEER
NAOMI is a 17-year-old mental health campaigner and volunteer. She writes a blog, Tackle the Stigma, on which she shares her opinions and experiences. Through her writing, she is working to reduce the stigma on mental health. Naomi’s story has been highlighted in the media several times and in April 2016 she received a Diana Award.
♢ Do you have any role models?
I wouldn’t say that I have any definitive role models but I have learnt a lot from a lot of different people throughout my life. My mum has always been a volunteer and also has very strong opinions on issues that matter to her so I have definitely learnt from her. I’d say that some of the teachers at the school that I have now left, that were really supportive have definitely been role models too. They’ve shown me what it can really mean to someone to have somebody really supportive and that has fueled my campaigning even more.
♢ Do you have any idea of the career you want to pursue and is it related to any of your childhood/adolescence dreams and goals?
As a young child from when I started school age 3 up until a few years ago, all I had ever wanted was to be a teacher. I have very distinct memories of really admiring one of my first ever primary school teachers and from then on I always told everyone I wanted to be like her. I loved school and really enjoyed learning as well as helping others so teaching seemed the perfect career.
After suffering with my own mental health problems and when my passion for helping others with mental illnesses begun I began looking into different career options in that field. I discovered psychology and from that moment I knew that was what I wanted to study in university. From that I hope to become a clinical psychologist eventually. It is a tough career to get into bit I strongly believe with my determination that I can do it.
Both link to one of my only goals as a child and now, which is to help others.
♢ What are the issues that matter to you?
There are a lot of different thing that I feel massively passionate about. Politics, getting young people to vote, encouraging children to read and so much more but the main issue that matters to me at the moment is mental health and how we can ensure that those suffering are not subject to stigma and are able to access the support they need.
♢ How did you come up with the idea of volunteering?
I started volunteering at a very young age. It was probably around the age of six if not younger as my Mum was an active volunteer on my primary school’s PTA (Parent teacher association) which meant that I always wanted to get involved with helping run events to fundraise etc at the school. I’ve never really known a life where I haven’t volunteered and along the way I’ve been able to volunteer doing lots of different things and gaining really valuable skills. Because it was a part of my life from such a young age, because of my Mum, it is now almost a natural instinct. If I see something that needs doing that I feel I would be able to help with then I will most likely take up that opportunity. It is something I enjoy and something that really does make me happy.
♢ Did you have any objectives in mind when you started?
As I started at such a young age I don’t think there were any particular objectives in my mind when I started other than helping others. As I’ve got older the main reason behind my volunteering has remained to help others although now I am able to apply personal goals to the volunteering I do. I like to challenge myself and prove to myself that my anxiety does not control my life and I can do anything that I put my mind to.
♢ Did your action happen thanks to the help of some special people?
There are several organisations that have had a huge part in my journey with social action. It was with the help of Fixers UK, a charity that gives people aged 16-25 a voice, that I was able to create a campaign for young people on mental health that was then shared amongst a huge amount of people across the world.
Another charity that again have been a hug part of my social action giving me incredible opportunities to influence campaigns and have my voice heard as well as share my story in the media to help others, is the NSPCC. I have volunteered with their Participation Unit for over a year now and I’ve had nothing but incredible support from all their staff and some really incredible opportunities which have seriously boosted my confidence.
I have a lot to thank both Fixers UK and the NSPCC for!
♢ What were the encouragements you got that pushed you even harder towards your volunteering and campaigning?
Seeing the difference I could make gave me a huge drive to work harder on it all. After my mental health project was broadcast on ITV Wales and then was posted on Facebook, it got over 30K views over a few days. I had never shared my story before or shown what I could do and so getting such a good response to that was incredible and made me work so much harder on the project. It gave me the confidence to speak out even more and proved that if I continued to do so I really could help others.
When I do my workshops in schools, I always ask for feedback at the end from the pupils so that I can see what they liked and what I could improve. The feedback I have had has been incredible with a lot of pupils saying they wouldn’t change anything and that they really admire my honesty as it has helped them understand more.
It is also the small moments too that make me want to keep on doing what I’m doing. For example during one of my workshops one of the pupils opened up saying that he had anxiety. When I was going around the groups to discuss the task I had set them in groups this pupil started talking more about his anxiety. He told me he had autism and that he also suffered from anxiety but nobody had ever really explained to them what anxiety was. I used a simple comparison with a car alarm which I explained on my blog here and he really appreciate that and felt like he understood more now. Those little moments where you know you have successfully helped someone really give me that drive to keep going.
AN ACCOMPLISHED PROJECT
♢ Was there any difficulty you encountered while volunteering and campaigning?
At the beginning of my mental health campaigning my own mental health problems where a challenge that I had to overcome in order to do what I wanted to do. At that time I suffered with quite severe anxiety round speaking in front of people which led to some horrendous panic attacks. I was unable to answer simple questions in class without having a panic attacks so my idea of doing workshops in schools seemed absurd. I was determined I still wanted to do them so I designed the workshop but was terrified about if I would actually be able to deliver it. I was pushing myself into the deep end with it, even more so as the first time I ever did a workshop I did it to a class of pupils, around 4 teachers and a CAMERA CREW (eek!). I managed to do it and everyone said I didn’t even seem nervous and was super confident. Challenge overcome!
In all volunteering I do the first time I do whatever it is my anxiety can get in the way a bit but I have learnt to persevere because I know it will always get easy and my anxiety levels will eventually go down. My volunteering can often be quite therapeutic and often has a massive positive impact on my mental health instead of a negative one like I thought at times.
♢ What is your favourite thing about taking part in such meaningful actions?
It is 100% the satisfaction it gives and how much it benefits my mental health. I get to have lots of fun and really enjoy myself while making others’ lives better too. I never come away from volunteering or campaigning without having learnt or developed a skill and ALWAYS come away with a smile. It gives me a feeling that I can never fully put into words but that feeling is my favourite thing about it.
♢ As of today, what are you the most proud of regarding what you have done?
My mental health project and my ability to share my story in the media. I have had the pleasure of doing several interviews over the past year on tv, radio and newspapers and I could never have dreamed of sharing my story to so many people. When I began struggling with my mental health I struggled to tell anyone, not even family and friends, about what I was going through. I am really proud of myself for building up the confidence to do that so that I could help even more people. Public speaking sued to be a huge fear of mine and now I can almost say I love it!
♢ As regards to volunteering and campaigning, what is your wish (and dream?) for the future?
To carry on doing it as much as I can. I really feel like volunteering and campaigning will always be part of my life and I hope that I will be able to inspire others to volunteer and have their voices heard too. I have made it my goal to volunteer as much as I can over the summer as I was unable to get a paid job. I have already had so much enjoyment through different volunteering opportunities over the summer and can only hope that that volunteering continues.
In terms of my mental health campaigning, I am looking to carry on working on my project and expand it further. One of my main goals is to create workshops and leaflets for teachers and others that work with young people on how they can support young people too. I want to also make sure my messages reach as many people as they can through my blog a hopefully through a YouTube channel on mental health that I am looking at creating.
My overall goal however is just to keep going and do as much as I possibly can for as long as I can.
To carry on doing it as much as I can – I have made it my goal this summer to volunteer as much as I possibly can to give back to others. In terms of campaigning, I want to carry on working on my projects and expand them further. I’m looking at creating workshops for teachers too as well as students.
⇨ Do you have any advice for someone who wants to start volunteering/campaigning?
I have so much to say on this that I could probably actually write an essay so I’ll keep it to 5 top tips:
- Look for organisations that have similar views to you that you can help with or even organisations, like Fixers UK, that can help you create your own campaigns. This can really give you somewhere to start and a platform to have your voice heard for the first time.
2. Find something that you are passionate about. If you like reading why not go and ask in your local library if they have any volunteering opportunities. If you love animals then you could try a local rescue centre. There’s something out there for everyone.
3. Try thing out of your comfort zone too if you want to. That is what is great about volunteering, it is an opportunity to learn new skills and try things you may never have tried before.
4. Don’t be put off by interviews or application processes. A lot of opportunities will ask for informal chats or you to fill out a short application form. This is often so they can find the people that the volunteering would benefit and for example if working with children to sort out making sure it is safe for you to do so (criminal record checks etc). These things also then give you great experience when you are applying for paid jobs too.
5. If it feels daunting then start of small and work up to bigger things. You could start with some online mini-task volunteering or just help out with an event at your school or workplace. From there you can gain the confidence to work your way up to bigger opportunities and roles.
Volunteering can be really fun and gives you some incredible experiences so if you think you want to start then give it a go – you have nothing to lose! I do warn you though, volunteering is addictive!
⇨ WHAT WOULD YOU TELL A YOUNG PERSON WILLING TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE?
If you have something that you are passionate about and you really do want to make a difference the get started as you have nothing to lose. If you are willing to make a difference then you CAN make a difference you just have to take the first steps. There’s so much room out there for people making a positive difference in the often negative world we live in so we need more young people that want to stand up and change things. You have a voice and it is important so make it heard whenever you can! Dream big with your campaigns because anything is possible.
– Naomi’s links:
I want to thank again Naomi for taking the time to reply to my questions!
Missed one post of the Making A Difference — Portrait series? Check it out now:
- Part 1: Dani DiPirro, author & blogger behind Positively Present
- Part 2: Chelsie Prince, founder of Proud and Pretty In Pink
- Part 3: Russell Lehmann, public speaker and autism advocate
- Part 5: Carla, founder of Run The World Association