Kehittämiskeskus Tyynelä

Resource-centered support for young people with substance abuse and mental health problems

The Voimakas-project (voimakas – Finnish for ‘strong, powerful’) was initiated by different networks working with young people as they were concerned about the wellbeing and the challenges to the wellbeing of young people in Eastern Finland. The causes for concern included problems with substance abuse, mental health and dropping out of school. The key aspect in the discussion was whether the young are able or willing to commit to the services available. In other words, whether the objectives of the young and those of the service providers coincide and whether the contents and timetables of the services are too demanding in view of the personal development of the young. Targets and willingness for change springing from the young themselves are felt to have been given too little space in the guidance mechanism of the existing services.

The Voimakas-project evolved around how the young themselves see their need for change, and the supportive measures around it. The project also leaned on the alignments made in the National Plan for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Work (2009-2015) concerning the development of this work. The plan emphasized strengthening the client’s position, enhancing mental health and substance-free life, as well as developing guidance mechanisms.

Support needs time

The work methods of the project have included outreach youth work, group activities planned and implemented in cooperation with local youth workers, and other close network cooperation. Feedback was collected both from the young themselves as well as the network partners concerning the activities and work methods, and this feedback was drawn upon in the development work. The key aspect of the project was to encounter, hear and support the change from the perspective of the young. Those young people who were ready to cooperate were offered tailored professional support and various group activities with which it was possible for them to review their own situation in life and the changes they wanted to make, as well as to listen to the thoughts and experiences of other young people in the spirit of peer support and participation.

The change processes that enhance wellbeing require time and support. Change is not achieved with a linear process. The building up of willingness to change requires the person in question to experience some sort of discord between the present and the desired situation. The present way of life may feel safer in its familiarity, and the motivation to seek change varies from situation to situation. Young people, who do not yet have the vision brought along with life experience nor confidence in their own coping, are particularly in need of people who can facilitate and support change. An understanding and supportive adult is an irreplaceable asset, but peer support is equally significant in its own way. It is important for young people to see themselves as unique individuals, but at the same time feel that they are accepted by others and “sufficiently similar to everybody else”.

Young people are looking for appreciative encountering and comprehensive support that is easily available. With cooperation and resource-centered activities that spring from the objectives of the young themselves it is possible to strengthen the motivation of the young to work out changes that enhance their wellbeing. As the heading of the interim seminar of the Voimakas-project says: The young have strength – let’s bolster it!

Funder for the Voimakas-project (2012-2015) was Finland's Slot Machine Association.

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Kirsi Eskola, specialist

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