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Happy place . . . North Otago Youth Centre manager Amanda Acheson. PHOTO: GUS PATTERSON

Face-to-face connection and community is the best thing you can do for your mental health, Amanda Acheson says.

The Oamaru counsellor is working to build that sense of community for young people at the North Otago Youth Centre.

As well as overseeing the running of the youth centre, Mrs Acheson runs her private practice next to it.

“I think we are getting better [at talking about mental health], and I think our young people are,” she said.

“But we are in an era where addiction [and] anxiety is everywhere.

“Is that because there is more of it, or because we are talking about it? We don’t know.

“What we do know is that talking about it doesn’t do us any harm.”

The uptake of social media was adding to anxiety for young people, she said.

“My concern is with less face-to-face connection and community, it encourages the rise of anxiety.”

The North Otago Youth Centre, which has been running for 16 years, aimed to provide a space for that connection and sense of community.

“We see kids engaging which is great, cooking tea, potting plants, jamming music – they are engaging with each other.”

Jamming . . . Playing the musical instruments at the North Otago Youth Centre are (from left) Cooper Rowsell (13), Lee Genet (12) and Ashok Ormandy (12). PHOTO: GUS PATTERSON

The centre aimed to provide a place “as well as home – not instead of home”, Mrs Acheson said.

“We are fortunate enough to have good relationship with families. We are working in conjunction with kids and families.

“Our overarching goal is to give the kids a sense of community and belonging, so the kids know that they are connected.

“My job then is to link in with them and walk alongside them – which is a lovely role. I’m very lucky.”

Often those who went to the centre as young adults went on to be leaders at the centre and volunteered to oversee activities.

Good shot . . . Josh Kinnaird (16) and Luke Acheson (14) play pool. PHOTO: GUS PATTERSON

“It’s a fabulous atmosphere on a Friday evening,” she said.

“There is always food in the kitchen, kids come in during the week and make themselves something.

“The volunteers are as much about the community as anything.

“We all get something from it.

“We have got a real cross-section of kids here that are all mixing together.”

The rules were based around “respecting one another”.

Mrs Acheson has been a counsellor for 20 years, and in Oamaru for 17, after moving here from Ireland. She has worked at the centre for the past two and a-half years.

“I’m well settled here. This is a good place to be.

“It’s a great place to bring up the kids, it’s a beautiful place between the water and the mountains, and safe.

“We have an awful lot of positives – a lot to be grateful for.”

Mrs Acheson has also been involved in hosting Julia Grace, a singer-songwriter and mental wellness advocate, to Oamaru.

The Tui Award winner will share her story and anecdotes at the Orwell St Church on November 23 at 7pm.

“She talks about mental wellness rather than mental illness,” Mrs Acheson said.

“What she advocates for, it is something we need to talk to rather than shy away from.

“She is humorous, she is very practical in the way she speaks, she normalises health issues and she sings.”