A Kent teenager who struggled with their identity and became a peer mentor as a result, is urging other teenagers not to isolate themselves and get support whenever they need it - especially during lockdown.
Sixteen year-old CJ is from Tonbridge and knows only too well how young people may feel alone at this time and how lockdown has affected them.
CJ Ford is a peer mentor
CJ attends a youth centre and is now a peer mentor for Headstart Kent after struggling with mental health issues when younger.
HeadStart Kent is part of Kent County Council’s integrated children’s services and aims to help young people cope better when faced with difficult circumstances in their lives. It's aimed at preventing them from experiencing common mental health problems.
The programme is funded by the National Lottery Community Fund.
So we spoke to the teenager as part of Children's Mental Health Week, which is being staged this week to highlight the issue and show parents what free resources are available to them to help youngsters.
It is estimated one in six school-aged children in the UK now has a diagnosable mental disorder, an increase from one in nine in 2017.
And other figures reveal 73% of teenagers said the pandemic had caused them to worry more, with education and socialising being the main drivers behind the extra concern.
And 60% said they were feeling anxious about their school work due to the pandemic, with 55% worrying about their grades from school tests.
The theme of this year's campaign, organised by Place2Be is 'Express Yourself' and today is Time to Talk day and CJ says that's one of the things teenagers need to do more to feel less isolated.
CJ said: "The third one (lockdown) has been the hardest.
"I've moved to a new school, I've only made one friend and I had no friends from my secondary school so I am just relying on my one new friend and my boyfriend for support and the youth groups.
"That's why Headstart comes back in again as, oh yes, I get this group once a week, I get to talk to people I do not live with, wow."
CJ also thinks young people are lonely during lockdown as it is a struggle to find people of their own age to talk to.
The teenager added: "I have done a survey for this, in an unrelated topic, but people are just very lonely and they have not many people their age to talk to or they are just struggling with sleep patterns.
"That's a very big problem that's come up, people are like what's a sleep schedule, I can relate to that one.
"But I think young people are struggling so much because of this (lockdown) because they are just on their own."
CJ thinks this may be made worse by online learning which thousands of children in Kent are facing at the moment.
The teenager said: "I came out of a lesson early for this (interview) I was like, I am going to do a news interview and that's the first time the actual class has actually spoken to each other that whole lesson.
"They were like 'wow, what's going on' and I explained and everyone was asking questions.
"It's the first time anyone has spoken to anyone. My sociology class is just completely silent until we were all talking about this.
"So online school, no, you don't talk to anyone unless you are in a breakout room and that's for like five minutes questioning what are we meant to be doing here and then just getting kicked back into the main meeting where you just go on mute and turn your camera off and be quiet."
CJ also thinks many teenagers will need help to familiarise themselves with socialising.
The teenager added: "They are going to struggle on how to socialise because there is not a mute button in real life, you can't just go on mute and not say something in real life, I think there is going to be a lot of support needed for how to socalise with people and stuff like that."
But if teenagers do need support CJ says there are plenty of mechanisms out there to help, especially online.
CJ added: "Headstart's website and Moodspark has lots of useful information on and if not the youth centre does a sort of meeting thing where you can email in and they can talk to you and you have a one-to-one. There is always Kooth online to get support.
"The main thing is don't be afraid to reach out to people if you do need support.
"Don't be ashamed as it's like there are loads of young people who do need support as they struggle coming out of lockdown."
CJ thinks there is quite a bit of support for young people and that if they are struggling with their mental health, it's better to get help now than it is to wait until adulthood.
The teenager added: "When you get to adulthood, your just kind of like chucked into a pool of sharks and no one really helps you.
"So I think it is really useful to help young people before it can evolve to adult stage where it's really bad.
"Keep the coping mechanisms up while they are younger it helps them keep healthy mechanisms before they get to an adult and then not know what to do as like they have been left in a sea of sharks and struggling."
And CJ says some teenagers are feeling frustrated by the world we live in at the moment.
CJ said: "I've seen young people get very frustrated, like on my online lessons, I've seen people say like, 'don't do the work, what's the point in this all anyway'.
"Everyone is getting very dejected by everything going on and they have nothing to really look forward to any more because like tomorrow is the same day as yesterday, but I have different lesson.
"Tomorrow's the same day before that, I roll out of bed I go on to the teams and I get off an hour later."
And of course, teenagers often face anxiety as they are working out who they are as well as coping with family problems.
CJ identifies as non-binary and asexual and has even helped other mentoring adults to understand what that exactly means.
The teenager added: "With Headstart I was having a conversation with one of the workers and she was saying how they had training on gender identity and pronouns and she went on to tell me something that made no sense, did not apply, and I was like, that's not right.
"So I talked her through it and she was like 'Oh, do you want to make a PowerPoint for us to learn, accurate information we need to know'.
"Because I am non-binary I was like OK we will start with pronouns because pronouns people struggle with because mine are 'they and them' and are probably the hardest pronouns to learn.
"So I think helping one person with that and then moving on to help a whole organisation in the future would be very beneficial for people because I know many young people struggle with their gender identity or their sexuality, then for people to tell them false information is kind of more harmful than it is beneficial."
"The main problem I had they were saying stuff and I was like, yes, but that applied like 30 years ago, that makes no sense in 2021.
"They kept confusing gender identity and sexuality and I have mentioned pronouns and they would go 'Oh, because you are bisexual?'.
"I was like, I am not bisexual and no. Pronouns are gender and sexuality is who you date and they kept getting confused and I am like - it's kind of simple.
"I guess it's because my generation have grown up with this and we understand this, but teaching someone from the older generation is slightly more difficult."
CJ also says it helps if parents try to understand teenagers' situations.
CJ added: "I had a girlfriend in Year 8 and I am like, Dad I've got a girlfriend and he was like 'cool'.
"I told my mum and she was like cool too and I think that's the best way parents should do it.
"It's just a human being and if their child is happy, they're happy, I am not with that girl any more, I am with a boy now and like I have a boyfriend now and my dad said, 'so you date boys?'
"I was like yes, I date anything and he was like 'cool, that's fine'.
"I've been called CJ for the longest time, it's just how my parents abbreviated my name and I just took it as my own because it's gender neutral.
'I was like yes, I date anything and he was like 'cool, that's fine'....'
"But coming out like as asexual, no one understood it.
"But it doesn't matter if you don't understand, you accept it, you move on, you are not horrible to people because you do not understand."
And getting help also helped CJ get over angry feelings after her parents separated.
CJ added: "I was a very angry violent young person from the age of six to like 12. I used to be very angry and violent.
"There was a lot going on at home, my parents had just split up and I had moved into my dad's house and I had a new brother and sister that appeared out of nowhere and I was kind of really jealous of them and I was realising I am not getting my mum's love any more, what's going on?
"So I used to be really angry and take it all out on the world and I was like if no one loves me, I am not going to love the world back.
"As I got older I realised she does and it's fine and she's just got other kids and they are younger than me and so I've got older I have realised I just can't be horrible to the world because something went wrong for me.
"I've had lots of help from the youth hub and Headstart and so I think giving back to the world and helping young people have someone to talk to like, I had the youth hub to talk to, it's very beneficial and it's a great thing to do.
"I don't want to sound egotistical, but I feel good helping other people and knowing I have helped somebody is a nice feeling."
And the teenager has one final message for other young people who may be struggling during lockdown.
CJ added: "You're not on your own, there are load of things out there.
'Talk to friends, talk to family don't isolate yourself more than you already are isolated...'
"You are not bad and you are not alone in feeling like this.
"Talk to a friend because they are probably feeling the same way. If you go up to them and say lockdown kind of sucks, they are like, yes that's true.
"Talk to friends, talk to family don't isolate yourself more than you already are isolated.
"Don't sit in your room and refuse to talk to people. Talk to people, it helps a lot."
To find out more about Headstart Kent, click here.
To find our more about Children's mental health week, click here.