Performer turned mentor wants mental health to take centre stage in schools

A performer who is training as a psychotherapist at Edge Hill is using her creative talents to encourage children and young people to open up about their mental health through the arts. 

Olivia Izzo, 26, is currently studying an MSc in Psychotherapy and Counselling at Edge Hill following a career as a performer and actor. Since joining the University, Olivia has been appointed as a mentor for Tackling the Blues, Edge Hill’s mental health literacy programme for schools in partnership with Everton in the Community and Tate Liverpool. 

Tackling the Blues is a sport, physical activity, arts and education-based mental health literacy programme supporting children and young people aged 6 to 16 years who are experiencing, or at risk of developing, mental illness.  

As a mentor, Olivia is hoping to use her creative flair to help children and young people to express their feelings through the arts. 

Olivia, who is originally from South East London, said:

“When I was younger, mental health was not a conversation in schools. As a result, we are finding more and more children who are reaching adolescence and are experiencing major mental health crises, because they are struggling and don’t know how to communicate their feelings.”

According to the Children’s Society, 10% of children and young people aged 5 to 16 have a clinically diagnosable mental health problem, yet 70 per cent of children and adolescents who experience problems with their mental health have not had appropriate interventions at a sufficiently young age. 

Alongside its existing sports and physical activity programmes, Tackling the Blues recently welcomed Tate Liverpool to the partnership to establish a new arts strand to encourage young people to use art as a tool to explore, understand and increase their mental health literacy. 

Olivia said:

“Art therapy can help at any age but if we specifically focus on children and young people then it’s a really useful approach. For a child, being able to draw and create with me beside them provides them with so much more freedom. Depending on the age, some children don’t have the language to explain how they’re feeling or tell me they are worried, but they might be able to draw a picture which resembles how they are feeling. Combining what they enjoy doing with something that might feel a bit uncomfortable is a really powerful approach.” 

Having enjoyed a career on stage, Olivia explains how her desire to help others with their mental health stems from seeing others struggle to express their emotions and suffer as a consequence.  She said:

“I’m fortunate that I’ve always been a very expressive person and open with my emotions and I know how this isn’t the case for everyone. 

“Programmes like Tackling the Blues are so important to kick-start the conversation about mental health at an early age. The programme helps children to not just talk about it but allows them to recognise what their feelings are and process them. 

“Now more than ever, it’s vital that we are setting the right example to children and young people by empowering them to have the tools in place to recognise and understand their emotions and know that it’s a sign of strength to talk about their feelings.” 

Since its launch in 2015, Tackling the Blues has engaged over 1,000 young people across Merseyside and West Lancashire. 

In 2020, the programme received a £527,000 funding award from the Office for Students and Research England in recognition of the vital impact it has on the student experience. The programme received the award for demonstrating the benefits it brings to students, graduate and external partners through involvement in knowledge exchange activities.  

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