22-year-old Aamira* experienced mental health issues, bullying and homelessness at a young age.
Her dad was diagnosed with a mental illness when she was a small child. She was brought up by her mum. Here, Aamira shares her story with us:
“It was in primary school that I started to feel I was different. I didn’t talk much to other people and I used to rock back and forth. I was in a little world of my own and day dreamed a lot. I only had one friend. The teachers spoke to my mum and I was assessed by some professionals. People kept telling me that I didn’t maintain eye contact with them and I would think ‘I’m trying but I just can’t!’ They diagnosed me with autism.
“Going to high school wasn’t easy. I created imaginary friends in my head - I used to think that everyone did this. Things went from people describing me as ‘creative’ to referring me to CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services). It’s hard to recall a lot of the things that happened and in what order, but it was a strange time.
“I started to get bullied at high school. It was verbal, name calling, then became physical, kids would hit me in the corridor, that sort of thing. They taunted me when I was walking home. I used to wait 15 minutes after school had finished for my mum to come and pick me up before I left to try and avoid them. Then I started to skip school and used to hang around at a local graveyard with some other kids.
I started self-harming. It’s hard to explain but for a while it made me feel better about myself. There were a few of us who gathered to do the self-harming - we taught each other how to do it.”
Things took a turn for the worse when Aamira was 15.
“I took some tablets. I left a note for my mum saying how unhappy I was and then I hid under my bed. She came and found me and I was taken to hospital. I remember feeling scared, I was worried that people would shout at me. I was assigned a psychologist and was diagnosed with symptoms of psychosis. I can’t remember a lot of things at this time but I look back and think things had to reach crisis point for me to get some help.
“Things started to get harder at home with my mum. I know she was worried I was like my dad. It got to the stage where our relationship broke down and one day I just walked out of home and into town. I sat on a bench for ages and then found a train ticket and used it to get to Manchester. I had no concept of time so don’t know how long I was away or sleeping rough. One day I tried to get on a bus in Manchester and the driver called the police. Two police officers came and took me to A&E. I saw a mental health nurse and was then admitted to hospital. When I left there, I went into a hostel for homeless young people, like a halfway house.
“It’s about this time I was referred to Barnardo’s. I met Samina who became my project worker. I was a bit nervous but she made me feel at ease and was kind. I met other young people at the group sessions they held. Barnardo’s felt different – I was under no pressure to change or do things within a certain amount of time, and this worked for me. In fact, if I hadn’t come to Barnardo’s, I think I would still be homeless today. Barnardo’s has really changed my life. There was a time when I didn’t feel things could get better. The workers at Barnardo’s believed in me and helped me to see that things would improve and with the right support, I could make something of my life. They helped me to get back on my feet and see a way forward.”
Aamira is now studying sciences at university and volunteers for the Barnardo’s service that supported her. She is also an ambassador for young people’s mental health services within the NHS and a hospital volunteer.
The Healthy Minds Service in Bradford offers ‘WRAP’ groups – Wellness Recovery Action Planning – which is a peer-led recovery group programme delivered by Barnardo’s with the Care Trust and the Youth Service.
WRAP is a 10-week peer support programme which aims to build resilience and promote self-care among young people. It supports young people to develop their understanding of what they are like when they are well and what they can do to keep themselves well. Young people produce a wellness toolbox, and their own plan to cope with difficult times and challenging feelings. Young people who have completed their WRAP then train to use their own lived experience to help others.
*Aamira's name has been changed and a model used in order to protect her identity.
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