Shauna Darling Robertson: Using Poetry to Talk About Young People’s Mental Health

Poetry can be a great resource for exploring our thoughts and feelings, providing a ‘way in’ to help us connect with different voices inside ourselves and to share them with others. Also, by talking about scenarios or characters in a poem, we can reflect on personal topics from a safe distance.

My new poetry collection, You Are Not Alone (Troika, 2023) is written with teens and young adults in mind and is all about young people’s mental health and wellbeing. I’m working on a series of themed resources to accompany the book – all freely available at – and this exercise is taken from one of them.

From ‘Let’s Talk About… Anxiety’

Exploring the poem in a therapeutic, classroom, community or family setting.

The complete resource includes some suggestions for working with these questions in larger group settings such as classrooms.

  1. What do you think the relationship between the two people in the poem could be? See how many different possibilities come to mind.
  2. Why might inviting someone to meet for coffee feel like this? Why do you think that the risks listed get bigger and bigger?
  3. Read through the poem again and, for each couplet (pair of lines), note down a few feelings the person in the poem might be experiencing at that point. Include some physical sensations in the body as well as emotions.
  4. How do you feel about the ending of the poem? Do you think it’s true that ‘the risks involved were way, way too great’? Why / why not?
  5. The poet has made a short film based on her poem, which you can view below. Does watching the multimedia film affect your experience of the poem? Why / how?

Extension activity: the ‘what ifs’

  1. Think of a situation that you feel (or have felt in the past) anxious about. If nothing comes to mind, or if you’d rather not work with a real situation right now, feel free to imagine one. Take a sheet of paper and divide it into three sections.

In section 1, write down some of your fears about the situation, starting each one with ‘What if…’.

In section 2, continue writing ‘What if…’ fears, but now make them deliberately exaggerated, maybe even bizarre, surreal or comedic.

In section 3, your ‘What if…’ list is going to be all of the things that could go right, or turn out even better than expected. This time, you can mix up realistic and surreal examples.

  • Take a few moments to reflect on how it felt for you to work on each of the three sections above. How did it feel to think about real fears versus exaggerated or surreal ones?  How did it feel to focus on fear versus positive anticipation?
  • Could you write, draw or make something inspired by your lists in the previous exercise? This might be a poem, a short-short story or some prose snippets. Or it could be some artwork (a drawing or painting, collage, 3D object, etc), a cartoon or comic strip, some music, a video, or a even short playlist of 3-5 songs – totally your call!

In group settings, you might like to set part 3 as ‘homework’ and invite participants to share their creations in a mini exhibition / performance in a subsequent session.

If you use any of these exercises, feel free to drop me a line, I’d love to hear how you got on!

Shauna Darling Robertson

Shauna Darling Robertson grew up in the north-east of England and now lives in the south-west. She has two poetry collections for young people: Saturdays at the Imaginarium (Troika, 2020), a National Poetry Day 2021 selection, and You Are Not Alone (Troika, 2023). Shauna’s a keen collaborator and her poems for children and adults have been performed by actors, displayed on buses, used as song lyrics, made into short films and turned into comic art.

Shauna is grateful to have received funding from Arts Council England‘s  ‘Developing Your Creative Practice’ programme to support work on You Are Not Alone.