Tackling the youth mental health crisis
I was diagnosed with depression when I was 16, in a small, stuffy room at my local Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services. It took a long time to get me there but the delay was my own doing. Instead of seeking help I turned inwards, into the darkness of my depression, keeping it to myself. At first it wasn’t hard to hide; my mum had passed away a year before and so no one questioned the solitude I existed in. Over time, however, it became clear this was no ordinary sadness.
So, I went to my GP and was referred to CAMHS. It was the last place I wanted to be, but that meeting was my turning point. In minutes they saw the pain I had been suppressing for months and put the measures that saved me into place.
I feel fortunate to have received the support I needed when I needed it — an experience thousands of young people across the UK aren’t currently receiving.
Research shows that 1 in 10 young people in the UK will experience a mental health problem — that’s the equivalent of three children per classroom. However, recent findings from The Prince’s Trust suggest that 78% of young people aged 16-25 are concerned about mental health stigma and, as a result, 24% would not ask for help.
The same survey showed that 28% of young people felt out of control of their lives in the last year and a recent study of 700 children aged 10 to 11 reported that 63% worry ‘all the time’.
So, what is being done?
Honestly? Not enough. A 2016 report from The Commission on Children and Young People’s Mental Health identified that, on average, specialist mental health services are turning away 23% of referrals.
For those who do access services, a postcode lottery of waiting times follows with some waiting as long as six months for an appointment and 10 months for treatment. Considering reports that only extreme cases are accepted, many young people’s lives are at risk.
Why is this happening?
I imagine you won’t be surprised to hear that part of the problem is funding. Both the English and Scottish governments have increased CAMHS funding in recent years but this hasn’t necessarily provided the answer. Through freedom of information requests in England, YoungMinds found that, out of 199 Clinical Commissioning Groups, only 36% increased CAMHS spending accordingly in 2015, rising to just 50% the following year. The remainder used some or all of the money elsewhere.
A challenge across the board appears to be meeting rising need. In Wales, where CAMHS spending is higher than any other UK nation, there has been a 100% increase in demand over the last 4 years. Data for Northern Ireland is too limited to form a clear picture, though the Mental Health Foundation estimates the situation is similar to the rest of the UK.
So, what next?
Some good news is that Theresa May promised a review of CAMHS and Mental Health First Aid training for secondary schools in England this January and the impact of the Scottish Government’s increased CAMHS budget is still to be seen.
However, encouraging as these actions are, a great deal more is needed to improve the situation. We need to think beyond managing mental health issues when they arise and consider how we build preventative measures. We must consider comprehensive mental health education, as well as recognising the benefits of enabling wider access to activities which increase confidence, well-being, and resilience, such as sport, creative arts, and volunteering. We need to move from a model of reactive crisis management to proactive well-being support.
Alongside this, we must prioritise stigma. By championing anti-stigma work, and involving young people in these campaigns, we can develop more supportive environments and encourage important conversations to happen sooner.
So, what can I do?
Volunteer, donate or campaign to support youth mental health charities (Place 2 Be and Young Minds are good places to start)
Develop your knowledge: Mental Health First Aid training — many local organisations, such as Mind branches, are offering free places, so it’s worth seeing if this is available near you
Time to Change offer resources for parents and teachers, including running anti-stigma campaigns with young people
Free online training for professionals and parents
Never underestimate the power of conversation. It changed my life.
Lucy Goodwill is a writer and charity worker based in North East London. She is passionate about tackling mental health stigma and increasing awareness around mental health and wellbeing. Find her on Twitter and continue the conversation at: @lucygoodwill