THE BLOG
27/11/2013 07:15 GMT | Updated 26/01/2014 05:59 GMT

No One Is immune From Mental Health Problems

When I became England Director of the Big Lottery Fund, the largest distributor of good causes funding from the National Lottery, I wanted to ensure the Fund worked with young people when designing new programmes aimed at helping them. It's all rather simple but still not as common as it should be. And for me, you simply don't get the richness of detail on what is really going on in young people's lives unless you work closely with them.

I remember sitting in on one of the early sessions we ran with a team of young people and listening to the personal stories of need they had compiled after consulting over two thousand other young people on social media and face-to-face. Two things came up time and time again. Firstly the issue of youth employment - which led us to our £100m Talent Match investment. The second was the importance of young people's mental health, particularly during early adolescence.

We heard how adolescence was a difficult time for so many young people: they move from primary to secondary school, go through changes to their height, weight and appearance, and experience changes to how they feel about themselves and how they feel towards others -changes to the way they think about the world around them. All these changes can be tough to cope with.

Stress, worry and mental health problems can affect anyone, from international cricketers to young children, no one is immune and often there are no signs of trouble. The figures on children are particularly striking. Half of all lifetime cases of mental ill health start by the age of fourteen. Three children in every classroom, on average, will have a diagnosable mental health disorder. These kind of stats reinforced the message from the young people that action was needed and although there are services out there that are doing great work, such as Child Line, we thought it's an area where Lottery money could help make a difference.

We therefore worked closely with other funders, health commissioners, policy makers and people delivering projects on the ground to help is target our investment. Everyone valued building young people's emotional resilience - helping them cope with the buffeting of adolescence, rather than treating problems better when they arise. Many initiatives concentrate limited funds on dealing with immediate problems but the Big Lottery Fund was in a unique position to take a preventative approach and strengthen the evidence on what works best to help young people cope and prevent common mental health problems from escalating.

And so we have created HeadStart - our direct response to the mental health needs of adolescent young people in England.

This programme will help equip young people to deal better with difficult circumstances in their lives, preventing them from experiencing common mental health problems, or at least stopping minor problems getting worse. It will help young people in the round: since problems can arise from experiences in their school, communities, or family lives or on social media, our funding will support work in all these areas. And just as young people generated the original idea, so young people will be fully involved, centrally and locally, in working up the details of the investment, and evaluating it.

We will trial new ways of providing this early support both in and out of school in 12 geographical areas across England, and then in a more intensive way in about five of these areas over a five year period. From the start, we'll share the learning with organisations such as schools, community groups, local authorities, health providers and others who work with young people. Ultimately, we believe this learning will help change the way future funding decisions are made, and influence how services are run.

Building the case for major changes in services takes time. The young people who helped us to make this investment will be well into their twenties by the time the full effects are felt. I firmly believe future generations will have cause to thank them.