Student speaks out about brave struggle with anxiety to encourage others to seek help


A university student who has battled anxiety since his teenage years is urging young people with mental health worries to reach out for help through a new support service in Gwynedd.

Jay Roberts, 22, is among a team of volunteers who will be offering support to vulnerable young people in the future through a new Community Hub in Pwllheli, run by youth charity GISDA.

The pilot project, funded by Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board (BCUHB) as part of its successful I CAN mental health and wellbeing programme, has been launched in response to spiralling levels of anxiety, depression and other mental health issues among young people during the pandemic.

The new hub, based in Gaol Street, Pwllheli, is the first youth-centred I CAN facility to be launched in North Wales and will run for an initial 10 months.

Thanks to funding worth £90,000, GISDA will deliver holistic support, one-to-one sessions and group workshops with the aim of preventing problems from reaching crisis point and reducing the need for referral to specialist NHS services or A&E.

The service is also available for young people in Gwynedd at GISDA’s community hub in Caernarfon.

Jay, who has epilepsy, is studying Mental Health and Wellbeing at Wrexham Glyndwr University.

He has volunteered for the ICAN service for the past two years and currently provides telephone-based support to adults in Wrexham.

According to Jay, the new youth hub in Pwllheli is desperately needed to provide young people with an outlet for their worries.

“If you can work up the courage to interact with this service, it can do the world of good, especially if you have the opportunity to speak to somebody like myself who you can relate to on a personal level,” said Jay.

“It can help to know you’re not the only one to have felt this way. Anxiety can affect absolutely everything from taking a phone call to going downstairs to speak to your parents.

“It’s understandable young people are developing issues in Covid, it’s such an unnatural feeling to be told all of these things and to have your freedom revoked. The lack of routine has definitely not helped people who already feel on edge.

“These problems are now becoming more prevalent. I really do think this kind of approach needs to be more wide-spread – it’s an essential service.

“I started to experience anxiety in high school and it became progressively worse from the age of 14 or 15.

“I respect the fact that some people have a chemical imbalance and anti-depressants can totally change their lives but for me it was not the right treatment. I’ve been down that road myself but I’m handling myself a lot better through my own methods and traditional, holistic approaches. This is what helped me the most.”

GISDA was established in 1985 to provide shelter and support for homeless people in Gwynedd.

Since then, the charity has developed a variety of projects providing therapeutic support, mentorship and training and employment opportunities for young people aged 14 to 25 across the county.

In 2019-2020 alone, the charity provided direct help to 1,186 young people through its diverse services and projects.

It is also working alongside Gwynedd County Council on a renovation project which will transform the former NatWest bank in Caernarfon into flats for up to five vulnerable young people together with the refurbishment of its training café and improved offices.

The partnership with BCUHB represents a major milestone for the organisation, which also works closely with housing associations and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Sian Tomos, GISDA’s chief executive, said: “This is a huge a project for GISDA and BCUHB. BCUHB have ICAN hubs across North Wales but we are providing the first youth service in this format.

“It’s very exciting and although it’s early days, we’re hoping we can make a difference and make it work so that we can continue the funding beyond 2021.

“We try to get young people to aim high and develop ambition and make them believe they can achieve whatever it is they want to do. We are right behind them every step of the way.

“On the whole, young people have coped well during the pandemic but they are struggling with anxiety and a low level of mental health and motivation. They are finding it very hard to stick to their college courses and for some it has been hard to get out of bed and go online for a whole day of lessons, especially when they suffer with poor mental health.

“A lot of young people dropped out and are having to re-sit the whole year again. It has been quite a challenge moving some young people on to the next step.”

Young people can be referred to the service by their GP, other organisations or can even self-refer.

GISDA has appointed a full-time ICAN coordinator who is qualified to provide specialist, therapeutic support and the service will be supported by a number of volunteers who will also undergo training.

Alongside the opportunity to talk about their problems, the hub will provide activities to boost mental wellbeing including physical exercise.

Sian added: “We cannot start to build their confidence and self-esteem unless they are in a good place and so we are helping these young people take their first steps to feeling happy.”

Lyndsey Thomas, head of development for GISDA and overall manager of the new ICAN hub, added: “We will host different workshops and sessions weekly on issues like debt, drugs and alcohol awareness so people can dip in and out and speak to us when they need to.

“One of our priorities is post-Covid confidence. A lot of the referrals that have come through so far are nervous or anxious as a result of Covid. They might have been out of work for some time or furloughed and have lost confidence.

“We supported one young woman who quit her job because she was so nervous about going back because of Covid. It had impacted her mentally and physically.

“Everything we do is in a holistic way. It’s very informal. We chat with a cup of tea in a different environment. It’s a person-centred approach. We don’t have a set way of supporting people, anything it is they need we will adapt to.”

Llinos Edwards, Mental Health Service Improvement Manager at BCUHB, said: “We’re delighted to be working with GISDA and other third sector partners to establish a network of I CAN Community Hubs across the region, which provide easy to access early support for people struggling with their mental health and wellbeing.

“By helping more people access the early support they need in the community, we can reduce waiting times and improve outcomes for the smaller number of people who require the specialist support of NHS mental health services.”