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Introducing Young Minds Matter - With Some Help From the Duchess of Cambridge

17/02/2016 07:06 | Updated 17 February 2016

Today we're honoured and thrilled to welcome a very special guest editor, Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge. She'll be joining editors at HuffPost UK to launch Young Minds Matter, a new global initiative to raise awareness around mental health and children. Together, we want to open up the conversation around mental health - an issue that's too often stigmatised and discussed only in whispers, if at all.

The Duchess, as the world knows, is herself the mother of two young children, and knows the importance of shining a light on this issue, especially for the vulnerable and the voiceless. And the timing couldn't be better, since this is a moment when we not only understand the depth of the mental health challenges facing young people, but have more tools than ever at our disposal to get them the help they need.

As HuffPost UK's editor-in-chief Stephen Hull writes, "In the UK today there are an estimated 70,000 11-year-olds currently living with a mental health issue - that's enough people to fill Manchester United's football stadium."

And here is a snapshot of mental health in the US:

- One in five children ages 13 to 18 have, or will have, a serious mental illness.

- Approximately half of students 14 and older with a mental illness drop out of high school.

- 70% of young people in state and local juvenile justice systems have a mental illness.

- Among those 10 to 24, suicide is the third leading cause of death, and 90% of those who die by suicide have an underlying mental illness.

The Duchess is passionate about opening up the conversation around young people and mental health. "Every child deserves to grow up knowing their potential and feeling confident that they won't fall at the first hurdle," she said recently, launching the UK's first-ever Children's Mental Health Week with Place2Be, a charity she supports. "While we cannot always change a child's circumstances, we can give them the tools to cope, and to thrive."

That's why, as Stephen writes, Young Minds Matter "will launch by focusing on the areas she values highly, including programs aimed to help primary aged children, efforts at early intervention, the importance of breaking the cycle of multi-generational mental health issues and the progress being made through art therapy."

The mental health of our young people is closely linked to another under-discussed issue: sleep. So as part of Young Minds Matter, we're also focusing on the ways our current golden age of sleep science - in which new studies come out practically every day testifying to sleep's benefits - can help us open up the conversation around mental health, with life-changing results.

Sleep affects our mental health every bit as profoundly as it does our physical health. Sleep deprivation has been found to have a strong connection with practically every mental health disorder we know of, especially depression and anxiety. "When you find depression, even when you find anxiety, when you scratch the surface 80 to 90% of the time you find a sleep problem as well," says University of Delaware psychologist Brad Wolgast. In the Great British Sleep Survey, researchers found that sleep-deprived people were seven times more likely to experience feelings of helplessness and five times more likely to feel lonely.

Researchers from Canada and France found that consistent early bedtimes may reduce the risk of mental illness. That's because sleep disturbances interfere with our dopamine levels.

And when it comes specifically to young people, if we're going to truly commit to taking their mental health seriously, we need to make sleep part of the conversation.

Sleep disruptions are particularly dangerous for infants, toddlers, and children. The brains of young children go through a critical period of plasticity as they scramble to absorb as much information as possible and pick up a whole array of language, motor, visual, and cognitive skills - which is why babies and toddlers learn so quickly. But this doesn't happen without sufficient quality sleep.

In 2012, researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and the University of Michigan observed more than 11,000 British children from infancy to seven years old. They found that those who snored, had sleep apnea, or were mouth breathers - all potential sleep disruptors - at age four were 20 to 60% more likely to develop behavioural issues. By age seven, that likelihood jumped to 40 to 100%. Hyperactivity was the most common symptom.

For all these reasons, as Stephen writes, "Now is the time to give a voice to this urgent issue so we can re-imagine a society that works to make mental health in our children a top priority." And we couldn't be happier that the Duchess is leading the way.

So please use the hashtag #YoungMindsMatter and join us in making this campaign a global movement. And as always, use the comments section to let us know what you think.

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