Mental Health Awareness Week provides the opportunity for everyone to come together a start a national conversation about mental health. Through sharing experiences and improving understanding, the week aims to confront the stigma attached to mental health and encourage mental health to become a priority. This year’s theme is anxiety.

For looked-after children and young people, the risk of poor mental health is significant. Research suggests children in care are four times more likely to have a mental health difficulty, which in many cases is attributed to isolation and loneliness.

To mark Mental Health Awareness Week, we spoke to Alfie*, a care experienced young person who has struggled with his own mental health during his time in care.


Alfie’s Story

Alfie grew up in the care system after he was taken into care at 18 months old. Overall, his experience in care was a positive one with “just seven placements in 16 years”. He felt part of a family in the children’s home, enjoying days out, holidays and creating happy memories. Alfie knows that this is not the experience of every child in care, but the uncertainty and insecurity he felt growwing up caught up with him as he got older, and he began to experience poor mental health.

Alfie noticed his mental health decline shortly after moving into a new care home when he was 16. He became aware that he wasn’t leaving his bedroom or engaging with the other children or staff in the home. His therapist at the time became concerned that Alfie was experiencing Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder (EUPD) and referred him to his GP, but his behaviours weren’t taken seriously, and he was quickly dismissed. Alfie felt that because he was young, he wasn’t listened to; he felt they were looking at his age and not the experiences he had been through as young child in care.

Alfie said: “mental health was hugely played out in the care home, I was constantly exposed to suicide and self-harm, and at the time the staff didn’t have the correct training to deal with this. The doctors just told me I needed to exercise.”

Alfie was able to manage his mental health until he became a care leaver at 18. It was at this time his mental health began to rapidly worsen, and Alfie started to binge drink. He became increasingly anxious, rarely leaving his room or interacting with other people.


Alfie told his after-care worker how he was feeling, but his experience was again dismissed and put down to the fact that he had just moved out of care and was ‘probably a bit overwhelmed’.

This pattern continued until 2020, when Alfie experienced a mental health breakdown. Agoraphobia left Alfie too anxious to leave the house and he felt he was at rock bottom. After a trip to the GP, he was finally listened to and his medication was changed. Alfie was put on the path to recovery with the support of a therapist, but due to the years that had passed since he first showed signs of being unwell, this has not been an easy journey.

Alfie is still working on his mental health, and experiences both good and bad days. He has continued support from his family and friends, is taking pride in achieving the little things. A shift in mindset means Alfie views challenging tasks in a more positive light, and often tells himself to ‘just keep swimming’. 

He explains: “It’s little steps and self-motivation. If I have gone downstairs, for me, that is a success. If I manage to chat with friends, I have succeeded. They are important steps for me, even though they are small. It took me over six years to take the first step, but I did it, and I won’t let it win.

“Mental health awareness week is so important, it is an opportunity to make mental health ok, and to normalise these conversations. We need these difficult conversations to be able to make change.”

While he was never officially diagnosed with EUPD, Alfie strongly believes this is the cause of his poor mental health. He feels that if he had early intervention when he was first referred to the doctor, he would have been put on the right treatment plan. The stigma he faced around mental health and being in care prevented him from accessing the right support.



NYAS campaign Looked after Minds highlights the lack of mental health support for care-experienced children, and how this is limiting their potential and making them feeling frustrated, helpless and alone.  We are calling on the government for urgent action to prioritise the mental health and wellbeing of care-experienced children and young people.

For more information, visit Looked After Minds | Mental Health Support for Young People | NYAS


*Name has been changed for confidentiality.

You are not alone

If you or someone you know is struggling with poor mental health, there is always help available. Visit one of these support services to access help. If you feel you or someone else is at serious risk, call 999.