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Harry's story: from being helped to helping

It's been an emotional journey of healing and self-discovery over the three years since teenager Harry found Church Army's Amber Project in Cardiff ...

Three years ago, an unhappy teenager named Harry came seeking help from the Amber Project, one of Church Army’s key projects based in Cardiff, which supports young people aged 14–25 who have experience of self-harm. He talks to us about his emotional journey of healing and self-discovery ...

When I was 16, I suffered from anxiety and self-harm. I was doing my GCSEs and trying to find my own identity; it was a really stressful time for me. I hated myself and I wanted to punish myself: I used to cut myself; I would sometimes go for an entire week without eating; I wouldn’t take care of my personal hygiene …

I’d been to counsellors but it hadn’t really helped, so our family doctor recommended the Amber Project.

I felt really nervous the first time I went there, as I’d been spending most of the time locked in my bedroom and I just didn’t have the skills to communicate with others. The Amber Project Coordinator, Caryl Stock, chatted to me about what was available at the project, such as the workshops.

I started attending the theatre workshops, but initially they didn’t quite work for me. I preferred the arts and crafts workshops, as they gave me a chance to talk and get to know the others. Funnily enough, the Amber Project made me realise how much I love theatre. I am now part of the Amber Creative Team (ACT) and help out at the theatre workshops.

They are great for building confidence and learning skills that help you cope with everyday life. Thanks to Amber, I’m a much happier, more confident person. I feel better prepared to deal with the problems that life throws at you.

I’m doing other theatre-based work as well. I volunteer at the Sherman Cymru theatre in Cardiff, reaching out to people with learning disabilities through drama. We’re aiming to put on a performance to prove that just because you have disabilities there is no reason why you can’t achieve your dreams.

I have an audition with a physical theatre company and if I am successful, I’ll get to perform two shows in London. Physical theatre is a form of theatre that emphasises the use of physical movement, such as dance and mime, for expression. Eventually, I’d like to study drama at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and become a professional actor.

After attending the workshops for about a year, I started going to counselling. The Amber Project’s counselling sessions are the best I’ve ever had – they’ve been really useful.

I’ve made a lot of friends at Amber. Somehow I’ve found it a lot easier to make friends here than in other places. Everyone is so welcoming; I felt like I belonged straight away. It’s nice to know that you are not alone and that you can be yourself without worrying about people judging you.

When I first came here I couldn’t say boo to a goose, but now I can’t shut up!

I wish I could go back in time and talk to my 15-year-old self. I can’t do that, but what I can do is help other young people who are going through the same emotions that I did. They listen to me because they know that I’ve been through the same things myself. Now, I can honestly say to other young people who are suffering: “It really does get better.”    

According to YoungMinds, one of the UK’s leading charities committed to improving the emotional wellbeing and mental health of children and young people, over the last 10 years the number of young people being admitted to hospital because of self-harm has increased by 68 percent.

Since many people who self-harm choose not to go to hospital or seek medical attention, the real figures are probably much higher. The Welsh Government has also highlighted that suicide is one of the highest causes of death among children and young people in Wales.

The Amber Project’s theatre workshops explore issues related to self-harm through drama, a safe and powerful way for young people who find it difficult to verbalise their thoughts and feelings to explore difficult issues such as peer pressure and bullying.

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