Young People's Mental Health Is Deteriorating. Here's Why It Matters To Us All.

We think it’s time for a fresh approach to tackling this issue.
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Young people’s mental health is rapidly becoming one of the biggest challenges our society faces. Most mental health problems start in childhood and the prevalence rate in five to 19-year-olds recently jumped from one in ten to one in eight. Greater and greater numbers of our young people are facing mental health problems including depression, anxiety and eating disorders as well as self-harm and suicidal thoughts.

At Mind we recently spoke to 12,000 young people aged 11 to 19 to try to understand the scale of the pressure they’re facing and find out if they are getting any support. Of this group, nearly 60% told us that they had either direct experience of a mental health problem or were supporting a close friend or family member who was struggling with one.

But perhaps most concerning is that the majority of these young people either have no idea where to get help, or had a poor experience when they tried to. Only a quarter of those we spoke to had used NHS mental health services and most said that when they had tried to get support through school it wasn’t helpful. This was the largest piece of research we’ve ever done with this age group and even for those of us who have worked in mental health for some time, the response was deeply worrying.

With so many promises being made about this issue – from outgoing prime ministers to charities and the NHS – but little change, it’s not easy to see a clear way forward. Schools are ideally placed to spot the signs that a young person might be struggling and can act as an entry point for support, but we know from talking to a thousand school staff that they lack the confidence and information needed to support students’ mental health.

We think it’s time for a fresh approach to tackling this issue. Many of our local Mind branches across England and Wales already work with young people so together for the last year we have been trialling a new approach with secondary schools to see how we can help put mental wellbeing at the heart of school life. From governors dedicated to overseeing mental health, to assemblies and workshops, we’re piloting an approach to mental health that focuses on preventing problems from an early age and which includes not just young people’s mental health but the wellbeing of staff, parents and the local community.

Above all, we need to listen to what young people are telling us and be guided by them when designing services and support. We know that too often young people don’t feel involved in decisions about the care and support available to them, which is why we want to hear from young people about the barriers they face, and the solutions they believe could make a difference. Until young people are engaged in designing and delivering services, we risk offering them support that isn’t fit for purpose and missing opportunities to tackle mental health problems early on instead of helping our young people live the lives they want to lead.

Louise Clarkson is head of children and young people at Mind

Useful websites and helplines:

  • Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
  • Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
  • The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: help@themix.org.uk
  • Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0300 5000 927 (open Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on www.rethink.org.