Aled Griffiths thought his 21st birthday would be his last as he stood on the edge of a cliff, gazing through tears at the rocks below. Driven by the torments of his sexuality, the college student intended to mark his milestone birthday by leaping to his death.
Luckily for those who love him and the thousands of young people who have benefited from his pioneering support over the next 22 years, Aled stepped back from the edge of the cliff that day. The 43-year-old, from Penygroes in Gwynedd, has since dedicated his career and much of his personal life to helping other young people struggling with their mental health.
“Although I knew from a young age that I was gay, I didn’t think I would accept myself or come out,” he said. “Between 19 and 22, I struggled a lot, which led me to try to end my life. But in the pouring rain that day, I decided that life was worth living. to be lived and that I was going to try to be myself.
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For Aled, being himself ultimately meant hanging out with his friends and family and living as an openly gay man, while pursuing his passion for helping others. After graduating from college, he spent 10 years volunteering with the Samaritans while completing a master’s degree in social work and practicing as a therapeutic social worker.
For the past six years, he has worked for the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) at the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board on Ynys Môn, a job he describes as “the greatest privilege”. “My personal experience has led to a strong motivation to help others with their mental health issues,” he said.
“Working for CAMHS is the greatest privilege of my life. There is no greater feeling than seeing a young person believe in themselves and their future again and overcome the challenges that led them to meet me.
Determined to ensure that other lesbian, gay, trans, queer and questioning (LGBTQ+) youth do not face the same isolation as he did, in 2017 Aled created the first LGBTQ+ youth club in the North Country. of Wales, with the Caernarfon-based youth charity GISDA.
He said: “The club’s philosophy was simple: to create a safe, inclusive environment, which would allow every youngster to be themselves. Within months, 30-40 youngsters would be attending each session, traveling across North Wales .
“The club now has over 200 members and offers weekly sessions at three locations around Gwynedd. It hosts talent contests, comic book nights, mental health and sexual health workshops, Christmas balls and trips. Many young people recognize the impact on their sense of social inclusion, self-worth and self-worth, as well as their overall happiness.
Research conducted by the Stonewall charity describes the mental health crisis faced by LGBTQ+ youth. Surprisingly, 84% of trans youth have self-harmed, while 45% have attempted suicide. For young people who identify as lesbian, gay or bi, without being trans, 61% have self-harmed, of which 22% have attempted suicide.
“We know that the individual journeys of our LGBTQ+ youth can be extremely challenging,” Aled said. “These numbers are stunning and point to an ongoing mental health crisis for LGBTQ+ youth.
“Research into targeted LGBTQ+ bullying in schools is higher in Wales than in the rest of the UK, with 54% of our young people having experienced bullying. The goal should be to have an evolved society that allows young people to be free to express their identity in all their environments, without fear of prejudice or negativity.
“Until then, we need to make sure we create safe spaces for them, at school and in the community, to meet each other, create healthy peer support networks and feel included, accepted and valued for who they are.”
Twenty-two years have passed since Aled stood on the edge of a cliff. He says stepping back and being his “true self” was the best decision he ever made. He urges other young people who feel life isn’t worth living to seek help, insisting that with time and the right support, things can get better.
“Life can be tough and believing in ourselves and the future can be difficult, but I know everyone is supported and accepted, regardless of gender or sexual orientation,” he said.
Do you think there is enough support for people struggling with their mental health? Let us know in the “Comments” section.
“Our real selves are the best version of ourselves and I believe every young person can reach a place where they are free, included and happy.
“I had the chance to work with so many young people. They are truly awesome and have given me so much joy and fulfillment. They are worth our investment, time and support. Let’s keep working hard and help the next generation not to follow the same path as us.
For more information on mental health support for LGBTQ+ youth, please see the Spirit website.
The CALL Mental Health Helpline for Wales is available 24/7 to provide emotional support and information/materials on mental health and related issues to people in Wales. Wales. Call: 0800 132 737 or text: ‘help’ to 81066.