Creating safe spaces for young people

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A word from our CEO, Brad Webb:

What makes a space safe for you? Do you feel safe at home? In your community?

This year’s International Youth Day is focused on discussion around safe spaces for youth, particularly safe spaces promoting inclusivity.

Samaritans is proudly the lead agency for the Maitland centre of the youth mental health service ‘headspace’.

headspace is dedicated to improving the wellbeing of young Australians and is specifically designed to be inclusive of all young people, regardless of race, gender and sexuality. headspace support covers areas such as mental and physical health, work and study support and alcohol and other drug services.

Each headspace centre has a Youth Reference Group (YRG) to promote the centre and advise on programming. One Maitland YRG member, Theo, is a vocal supporter of the need for safe spaces for the LGBT+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and others) community and I invited him to share his thoughts here.

Theo, 20:

“A safe space for me is somewhere that can bring a sense of calm to people dealing with sensitive or personal issues as well as support and comfort. I think being around people similar to you brings a sense of home and community; it makes you feel loved and accepted as well as that security in knowing you’re not going through anything alone.

I never really engaged with the safe spaces around me until about a year and a half ago when I came to headspace Maitland. I think I was a bit too proud; when I needed help I never tried to find it because I thought I could brave it on my own. The first one I went to was at my school a couple years ago and I brushed it aside as I just didn’t want people to think I wasn’t straight. I think just knowing they were there helped though because I would go to those meetings in secret hoping nobody else would see me. But that paved the way for me; now when I go to the All 4 One meeting at headspace I feel supported and loved and like I don’t have to have a mask on for anybody. It’s the same when I go to The Reach Foundation training sessions or my transgender support group at ACON. I’m glad I’m still young and can truly utilise these spaces to my advantage.

I decided last year I would create a safe space for young people among the LGBT+ community because of how supported I felt in the safe spaces I was going to and how much I really want to help people. I felt I was ready to take on a leadership role and give love and guidance to young people in need. So I created ‘SAIF’, which stands for Sexuality, Acceptance, Identity and Freedom. I came up with that name at 3am one morning and of course every idea sounds more amazing at 3am so I ran with it. We have a few people that come every time and I’m grateful to my girlfriend Jas and my friends who all help me with it.

Safe places are so important and if we can make them fully accessible, digitally and physically, and if we can inform more community leaders that these spaces are needed, maybe through proof such as questionnaires and polls taken by young people, then I think we have more of a chance of creating more of these spaces.”

headspace Maitland is an extra support system and safe space for all young people. As Theo mentioned, there are regular meetings for LGBT+ youth to discuss and explore their identity, and there are also numerous other events and programs such as the Bubs Club for young parents and TGIF workshops to socialise with other young people and learn about self-care. Those visiting headspace Maitland would even get the pleasure of meeting therapy dog Melash, who hangs out on site most days to comfort young people visiting who have anxiety, depression or stress-related behaviours.

Check out the Facebook page for more information.

Safety in the community and participation in social and community activities are vital for all people to live a fulfilling and connected life.

As we saw in the recent recorded stand up show from comedian Hannah Gadsby Nanette, safe spaces for young people growing up in the LGBT+ community are crucial. In Nanette, Gadsby talks of her upbringing in a very conservative town in Tasmania. She touches on some of the experiences she had as a gay woman, such as being publicly assaulted as a teen and not reporting it, and how she carried the trauma through her youth and well into adulthood.

The importance of safe spaces like headspace cannot be underestimated. Let us work together to ensure all young people – and all people, for that matter – have access to safe spaces in which they can thrive.