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Let's Empower Young People to Spot the Signs and Help Each Other

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It's a personal priority of mine to tackle children's mental health issues; to give every child the support and care they need to have strong mental wellbeing while also shining a light on unspoken concerns and giving children the confidence to speak out about their worries.

It's hard to admit, but sometimes adults aren't the ones young people turn to for help. Every now and again, we have to confess that children might be in a better position to help their friends or classmates on things that are worrying them, or keeping them up at night.

It's often school friends who will spot the signs of when something is wrong, whether that's a friend who is skipping lunch or someone who may be self-harming. And it's often their school friends who young people will confide in when something is concerning them.

Which is why, today, the government is announcing a £1.5million fund driven by young people to help develop support networks. Those networks can be anything from informal buddying schemes to group support sessions.

This fund can be used to provide online advice, training and workshops for young people to help set these groups up. Training will help young people spot the signs of mental health issues - in themselves and their peers - and provide a space to talk openly and honestly.

It is heart-breaking to think that one in five children will suffer from some form of mental health illness during their childhood. Even more so when we know that more than half of mental health issues in adults first began before they were 18. This is why it is so important to get mental health right and ensure young people have open and frank conversations about it.

I recognise that the world children are growing up in is a very different place to the one I grew up in. It's never been easy being young, but today there are tonnes of new pressures from the digital world that quite simply did not exist when I was young. The internet is a huge force for good but it also presents new and worrying challenges like cyber bullying, online pornography and trolling. That's why making the internet as safe a place as possible for young people is imperative.

Part of the support we're launching today is a new digital innovation fund, which will help counter negative influences online and provide easily accessible support and information for young people, potentially in the form of apps and other media young people engage with. These apps can help young people to connect with those suffering similar problems and get support from peers who've been through these issues in the past.

All of this will be developed with young people at the heart of it. We know that young people don't want to be talked down to, they have real honest opinions and we want to hear them.

That's why we are also launching a call for evidence via social media, schools, and community groups. These are platforms where the conversations we want to hear about the pressures on young people are happening.

Whether a friend helped their classmate with overwhelming worries about their exams, or a best friend supported another through a serious bout of depression - we want to hear what young people think works when tackling mental health, and how support schemes can be rolled out nationwide.

I have also set up a Peer Support Advisory Group. This new group will be supported by a wide group of experts, including headteachers, youth leaders and charities. But even more critically, it includes young people themselves and will look to engage with vloggers and YouTube stars. This will ensure young people are empowered to shape these solutions. Combining this group's thoughts together with insights from young people, we will build a strong and invaluable network of peer support across the UK that is based on 'best practice' and what really works.

We know that some schools are already using peer mentoring. For example, Sandon School in Essex has an excellent and inspiring mentor programme. Here, wearing a badge signifying your role as mentor is doubled as a badge of honour. I want to see more of this as peer support programmes are rolled out across thousands of schools across the country.

Earlier this week, the NHS' Mental Health Taskforce identified clear links between work and good mental health. Young people need good mental health, character and resilience to be able to succeed later in life.

I want to see a social movement for mental health that results in a nation of strong and resilient young people that are not afraid to speak about mental health and are champions of their own wellbeing.

And as adults, we will be there every step of the way to help achieve this. One child suffering from issues of mental health is one too many. So while we empower young people to help themselves, we will continue to provide the best possible health care and guidance that will support children to overcome whatever issues they face.

This is why I appointed Sam Gyimah as the first minister in the Department for Education to have specific responsibility for mental health. And why we embarked on a wider set of work aimed at tackling children's mental health issues.

This includes the introduction of new eating disorder waiting times and teaming up with NHS England to establish a new multi-million pound joint mental health pilot scheme for hundreds of schools. Centred upon setting up a single point of contact for mental health in schools, this pilot will encourage a joined-up way of working across schools and health services to ensure our children receive the best possible support consistently.

We're also investing in character education, so that we promote young people's wellbeing and resilience.

It is absolutely essential that no one suffers in silence and that young people know how to spot the signs when something goes wrong. That's why we must continue to tackle the stigma that still persists around mental health and make sure that young people can speak out and get the help they need.

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