“Keep going back”

Alaska struggled with anxiety and drug use from a young age, but the YOLO program helped her gain the confidence and skills she needed to improve her life.

Alaska struggled with depression and anxiety – particularly social anxiety – from a young age. 

At age 12, she was exposed to drugs by a boyfriend, who was a year older than her. 

“He used to smoke weed every day,” she recalls. “I thought it was cool and wanted to do what he was doing, so I joined. 

“I also think a major part of my drug use was my mental health issues.” 

A few years later, she stopped attending school.  

“I’d get in trouble for skipping school,” she reflects. “I just didn’t feel motivated.”

When she was 14, a counsellor referred Alaska to headspace – a youth mental health foundation that provides young people aged 12–25 with mental health services. 

One of Youth Off The Streets’ caseworkers attends a headspace location every week to connect with clients who require individual casework support – either with our specialist casework team, or within our other services.  

Alaska was soon connected to Youth Off The Streets’ Engagement and Support team. 

“I was having some financial issues – I only had a casual job,” Alaska recalls. “My caseworker helped me by giving me some food. 

“When she found out I didn’t have anything to do during the day, she suggested I join the YOLO program.” 

The YOLO program is a 12-week therapeutic life skills day program that focusses on bringing young people together to connect, share and validate their experiences while trying out different therapeutic interventions, including art, exercise, self-care, music and drumming workshops. 

These workshops help them develop practical, social and emotional skills that will help them better manage distress and conflict, develop healthy supportive relationships and increase resilience. 

“The first day Alaska came to YOLO, she was shy and kept to herself a bit,” says Hilde Schuurman, Capacity Building Program Coordinator. 

“But after a few sessions, I could see her open up and start to participate.” 

Alaska says she became comfortable with everyone in the group and enjoyed meeting new people. 

“Every day starts and ends with a ‘circle’, where we have the opportunity to ask questions to get to know everyone,” she explains. 

“At first, I was reserved because I find it difficult to interact with new people. But I eventually started feeling comfortable with them, and I learned a lot from the facilitators.”  

Hilde says that Alaska isn’t the only young person to feel this way at the start of the program. 

“Many young people with an anxiety diagnosis say that they started coming out of their shells during the program and developed a higher sense of self-worth.  

“Some of them said they made friends for the first time.” 

Alaska explains that as she started opening up, the other young people in the group understood her story and were supportive. 

“I gained so much respect for the other people in the program,” she says. 

“After hearing everything they’ve gone through, I realised how strong they are. 

“They had been through challenging things, but they’re still showing up and still happy people. 

“It also made me more appreciative of my life. My circumstance isn’t as bad as I thought it was.” 

Alaska stopped using drugs and is now working a full-time job in retail. She says she feels relieved to have financial stability, and her anxiety isn’t as hard to manage. 

“Now that I have a job, I don’t struggle as much financially. And it’s great to have something to do every day. 

“It helps me stay away from drugs because I get out of the house and have a purpose. 

“We learned how to budget in the YOLO program,” she adds. “My goal this year is to put that into action and start saving money.” 

Alaska says that the YOLO program helped her gain the confidence she needed to move forward, and she hopes that others who might be holding themselves back from a similar program should give it a chance. 

“The anxiety kept me from opening up at the start. But I’d say to others – despite how difficult it is at first, keep going back. It’ll be worth it.” 

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