The refugee crisis really is right on our doorstep, reading up for a new counselling project totally opened my eyes. I’m a firm believer in the importance of young people receiving the right mental health support, so I was really excited to be asked to get involved with piloting a new counselling service. 

This was part of a contract with BACP to work with the wonderful North East Solidarity Teaching (N.E.S.T.) at Newcastle University to trial a counselling service for young people from asylum-seeking backgrounds.​ 

My first task was to do some research into the types of barriers young asylum seekers might face to accessing counselling, and to write this up into a review that we could use to move forwards. Thanks to some generous and helpful colleagues at the University, I was soon ploughing through relevant studies that had been done all around the world, and I quickly started to notice the same themes coming up over and over again.

Probably the most I knew about the refugee crisis before starting this project came from fictional novels and the news headlines, so actually diving in and doing some research into what was going on right on our doorstep was a real eye-opener. I discovered the large amount of practical support available to asylum seekers in our area, in comparison to a very small amount of mental health support. This imbalance was a real surprise to me, as these young people have often been through significant trauma by the time they arrive in the UK, alongside the more common mental health challenges also faced by teenagers in our country.

Writing this review helped me to see things from a whole different perspective. It taught me to consider how different cultures view concepts like mental health and counselling, and how trust and confidentiality may mean different things to people with different past experiences. I learnt how language barriers make access even harder than we can imagine and discovered some of the hurdles to be overcome in finding the right interpreters.

Right now, we’re looking at ways that the review can shape things moving forward, so that we can offer young people who take part in the trial of this new service the very best support possible.

One of the next steps is to start having conversations with people who work with asylum seekers, and with the young people themselves, to learn from their experiences of the system and hear their views about barriers to accessing counselling.

I feel very privileged to be a part of this process as it has become something very close to my heart, and I wholeheartedly believe that with the brilliant partners we have in the project, together we can make a positive impact on the refugee crisis as we find it on our doorstep in Newcastle. Young people deserve to live whole, happy and healthy lives whatever their background and past experiences.