What is Teen Talk?
Teen Talk is a free and confidential one to one ‘listening ear’ service that is based in Letterkenny. We mostly work with young people between the ages of 12 and 25. Young people experiencing difficulty in their life can avail of this support to help them cope with issues such as bullying, sexuality, family conflict, problems at school, or friendship/relationship breakdown, or anything else they may be struggling with. No problem is too small. We work closely with CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services), and Tusla. We have one full time dedicated Teen Talk worker and six staff. This year (to date) we have done 600+ one to one sessions with approximately 80 young people.
When did it begin?
One to one support work is a core part of professional youth work and training. We found that the approach we used was very effective in helping young people work through personal concerns and we found that more and more external services were referring young people in to us. It was then we decided to make Teen Talk an official service of Donegal Youth Service and it was launched in June 2014. Teen Talk is about listening to young people and offering them a guiding hand while they try to make sense of the challenges they face. Most of the work I focus on is around building self-esteem and confidence. It is incredible to see that when a young person takes a step back from the struggle in their life and focuses on strengthening their own foundations, they can face life again with increased resilience, new perspectives and an increased ability to cope. We work from a young person centered ethos, this means young people ultimately decide what they want to focus on, what they talk about, how they attend and how long they stay with us. Everybody wants to feel like they can cope but the reality is that modern life is very stressful. It’s hard to ask for help and many people, even adults, do not want to feel like they are a problem or that they can’t solve their own problems. In our experience, assisting young people to develop skills for problem-solving and managing their well-being is what works best young people. Many young people are struggling throughout Donegal and Ireland in general. We work closely with many statutory and voluntary services.
What’s it like for a young person coming to the service?
Teen Talk is unique because it is integrated within the organisation, all qualified youth workers in differing projects can be Teen Talk workers. This means we can match a worker to the young person’s interests and preferences. Young people who attend Teen Talk can also join other groups and projects that can help them make friends, learn new skills and build confidence. This is very important for keeping young people feeling connected.
Why do you do it? What keeps you going?
I grew up in Donegal and I have seen the devastation caused by suicide first hand; when it happens it is a like a bomb – everyone who knew the person is impacted to some degree and we all think was there anything I could have done? These traumas are burned into our personal and community memory. Mental health effects everyone, the earlier that we can learn coping skills the better equipped we are to deal with stress and personal problems and youth is such a difficult phase of life I think it’s a good place to focus on. There is also the very important fact that most mental health conditions emerge in the mid teens to early adulthood (14 – 24 years). I just look around me at what is happening in my community and I want to help in whatever way I can, everyone has a role to play, no matter how big or small, the solution to problems like this lies within the community. We’re all humans and we all experience pain, it’s about time that we realise it’s okay to talk about it.
What’s your background?
I’ve been a professional youth worker for 10 years and I’ve trained in different areas of psychology, social sciences and youth work continuously for the past 15 years. I am still on that journey of learning and I am currently undertaking a PhD that is focusing on young people’s needs for mental health care and support in Ireland. The international research on what young people want in terms of mental health care and support has provided some excellent insights into how young people differ from older adults and children and what their unique life-stage needs are. Out of this we have been able to design the service from a strong evidence base and provide a service that is responsive and relevant to young people.