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College learner sets up mental health support group for young people of Rhondda

An inspiring young carer from the South Wales Valleys has set up her own support group outside of college to help other young people and carers in the region who are struggling with mental health.

Twenty-year-old Coleg y Cymoedd learner Alisha Morgan, from Penrhys, has worked with Ferndale Community School to create a weekly support group, providing advice and a safe space for young people to talk about the issues affecting them.

Alisha, who is the primary carer for her mother, originally decided to set up the youth club after suffering with poor mental health herself. The tragic loss of several young people in her community to suicide showed she was not the only one struggling.

She also wanted to provide support for young people like her who have care responsibilities, knowing first-hand how much of emotional and social impact the role can have.

Aged just 17, Alisha became a young carer after her mother became ill with a number of conditions that left her struggling to walk and take care of herself. Alisha found herself taking on a range of responsibilities including checking her mother’s insulin levels, helping her to walk, assisting her with daily tasks and taking her to hospital when episodes get severe.

Struggling to balance her care duties with her education, Alisha ended up leaving college completely. However, determined to forge a career, she returned to college a year later to study health and social care, with ambitions to work in paediatric mental health.

Alisha, who is now studying her level 2 diploma in health and social care at Coleg y Cymoedd, admits that she finds it difficult to focus on her education when she may be called at any time to help her mother. She also acknowledges that her responsibilities mean that she no longer has much of a social life and rarely goes out anymore. It was this feeling that first inspired Alisha to create a group where she could meet and socialise with other people in the same position.

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In 2017, Alisha decided to undertake mental health first aid training as she wanted to help young people going though mental health issues. Shortly after, armed with an accredited qualification, she formed the Ferndale youth club.

Alisha said: “Having struggled with mental health issues myself, I really wanted to help other young people in the same situation. I think it’s so important that people speak out about mental health and get support. I wanted to do everything I could to help other people which is why I decided to set up the group.

“I attend the sessions outside of my college studies and we speak about a range of issues from depression and anxiety to bereavement and suicide prevention. Speaking to other people who understand what you are going through really does help.

“Being a young carer has become an everyday part of my life – it’s normal to me – but it can be difficult sometimes. I’m lucky that my college is understanding and is flexible with me when I come in late or need to leave early to help my mum. I’ll always be there to help my mum but becoming a full-time carer does take its toll. Hosting the group event not only enables me to help other people, but the sessions actually help me too, allowing me to have a moment away from my everyday life.”

The youth club currently supports seven individuals between the ages of 11 and 25. As well as group sessions, Alisha also speaks with members one on one, providing a confidential space for them to discuss their problems.

The group has become particularly important to the community following the suicides of four young people from Rhondda and Alisha is urging anyone struggling with mental health to speak out and not suffer in silence.

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