Ambeya on winning ‘Young Student Volunteer’ at the Westminster Community Awards

I do not do what I do for appreciation or recognition, but when I found myself being celebrated at an award ceremony, where the Lord Mayor of Westminster, the director of communities and chief executives, were congratulating me for the time and dedication I give to Our Time, it made me realise that it isn’t officials or leaders who create change. It’s those of us who belong to communities who make things happen and who make a difference.

Of course, I appreciate the recognition and support which this award represents, and it helps me to have the courage and energy to keep going. Having heard important people, who were complete strangers to me before this ceremony, list all the work I have been doing for young people, especially young carers who care for parents with severe mental illness, I felt overwhelmed. But it also felt really good to hear back the amount of work I have managed to complete in such a short amount of time.

There has always been a stigma attached to mental illness and most people do not want to think about such sad and difficult things. As a result, you become oblivious to the issues which arise in families where mental illness exists. Children who have one or more parents with a serious mental illness will have experienced many traumatic situations throughout their childhood and, unless they are helped early, the consequences for their mental and physical health is serious and permanent (adverse childhood events research). Parental mental illness is not a small problem. In terms of numbers, it is estimated that 3.4 million children are affected, and it is a root cause of many of the mental health problems which affect children and young people. However, by providing appropriate and early support for the family and in school, we can protect our children from following in their parents’ footsteps.

At Our Time, this is what we are about and the message we want to share is that you can prevent the cycle of mental illness.

I feel both glad and grateful that the work of Our Time, and the work for which I have received this award, is now finally being recognised in Westminster. I hope that such recognition opens up doors for conversations in other areas and increases the emphasis on how important it is to hear from the voices of the unheard and unseen: from the children of parents with mental illness whose voices are silenced through stigma and shame. I have taken a personal stand to speak up for those children, as no one spoke up for me whilst I was growing up.

It isn’t fair for children to live their lives as victims of society’s inability to see mental illness as an illness like any other. It is not something we can hide and it is not fair to expect a child to parent their own parent. It certainly isn’t fair not to allow young people to voice their opinions on the things which they experience and which matter the most to them.

Receiving this award has taught me one thing. You don’t need to think of grand plans and big ideas which take ages to put in place or are too ambitious to even consider. This is a way of not doing anything. It really is the little things that make the difference. It is all the little things that I and others at Our Time have been doing that have made a change to children’s lives, maybe even saving lives.

I am delighted to be part of a movement that campaigns and helps the children of parents with a mental illness to get the attention it should, and allows charities like Our Time to move forward in the right direction, towards a recognition of the problem and the funding of the solutions to enable all affected children to benefit.