THE BLOG

Young People Are Disproportionately Affected By Mental Health Issues - We Must Give Them The Help They Need

18/08/2017 15:48 BST | Updated 18/08/2017 15:48 BST
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Mental illness, like physical illness can affect anyone, at any time. Just as with many physical illnesses, mental illness can wreak havoc with every aspect of a person's life. And it's not just the individual suffering who is affected, the impact extends to their friends and families as well.

But while we feel able to talk openly about the physical illnesses that devastate people's lives, too often this is not the case for mental illness.

Considering one in four people in the UK is living with a mental health condition, this needs to change. There are nearly 15million people living with an illness that affects their wellbeing, their relationships with family and friends, and their ability to work - many of whom feel unable to ask for support in their time of need.

Mental health issues also disproportionately affect our young people, with over half of mental health problems starting by the age of 14 and 75% by the age of 18. We need to make sure these children and young adults feel they can ask for the help they need.

I care passionately about ending the difficulty many experience when trying to discuss their own mental health. In my role as the Chair of the APPG on Mental Health and in my career before I became an MP, I have campaigned for better care and an end to the stigma that surrounds mental health problems. So I am delighted that Theresa May has committed to fight the burning injustice of inadequate treatment, to step up the momentum on prevention, and is making mental health a defining issue for this Conservative Government.

As I write this, thousands of young people up and down the country are receiving their A Level results. For many it's a time of celebration and the start of an exciting new chapter in their lives. However there are those for whom these results will bring disappointment. While such moments can turn out to be for the better, it rarely feels like it at the time as your self-esteem takes a battering, and you struggle with uncertainty about your future.

Everyone has to learn to cope with ups and downs in life, but recent evidence to the Health Select Committee suggests young people are facing particularly challenging times at the moment, not least living lives constantly in the social media spotlight. Friendships, self-esteem, body image and problems at home are just some of the many issues young people are struggling with, with knock-on consequences for emotional wellbeing.

That is why I am so pleased that the Government is teaming up with the National Citizen Service (NCS) to introduce a dedicated mental health awareness course for teenagers taking part in NCS. The NCS programme, enables young people to come together to take part in a series of new experiences and challenges, make new connections and skills then put these to use in social action projects in their local communities. In 2017 more than 100,000 young people will take part in an NCS programme and they aim for all 15-17 year olds to benefit from the scheme in the future.

It's good to see the Prime Minister backing this new initiative to raise awareness of mental health among young people and improve their knowledge of support available. Talking is an important part of reducing the stigma that surrounds mental illness and it can also be a part of an individual's recovery or even a way of preventing illness in the first place.

I feel lucky to be an MP at a time when mental health reform is being taken so seriously - when people like me who want to see mental health care improve are pushing at an open door. The head of one of the UK's leading mental health charities said to me this is a "golden moment" for mental health campaigners. Legislation for Parity of Esteem, the Five Year Forward View for Mental Health, extra funding for mental health, the determination to stop people ending up in cells during a mental health crisis - this is a steady and sustained commitment. And I welcome the Prime Minister's personal commitment to mental health, made on the steps of Downing Street, re-iterated to me since and being continued here with this announcement.

Mental Health should not be seen as a problem for the NHS to solve. We need to take steps in every part of life - at home, at school, at work, in our other activities. We need to think creatively about the opportunities to have meaningful conversations and improve our understanding. The National Citizen Service is one of those opportunities. I hope in the next few years we will reach a point where young people across the UK have the confidence to discuss and prioritise their mental health in the same way they would physical health.

Helen Whately is the Conservative MP for Faversham & Mid Kent