World Mental Health Day is shining a light on the wellbeing of young people

‘Young people and mental health in a changing world’ is the theme of today’s World Mental Health Day. Laura Drysdale explores some of the challenges being faced.

Like many schools Minsthorpe Community College is seeing more young people with mental health issues. It is not surprising, says principal Ray Henshaw, describing the world today as “scary” for young people.

Donna Hackleton, of the Fia Not campaign.

Donna Hackleton, of the Fia Not campaign.

They face high expectations with schoolwork and friendships, he says, with some confronted with financial difficulties, family breakdowns, homelessness and emotional neglect and many worrying about terrorism, Brexit and how they compare academically and socially with peers.

“Many fear crime, domestic violence and look on a world in which they feel vulnerable and at risk whilst at the same time feeling under pressure to appear happy and cool in the face of an almost 24/7 scrutiny of their lives by friends and peers via social media,” he says, adding that the pressures are a “modern, toxic mix”.

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“With all this at stake, essential local authority mental health services for children and young people are being cut...More effective signposting from schools is a good thing, but there are fewer services to signpost children to.

The Time Out project by Healthy Minds in Calderdale.

The Time Out project by Healthy Minds in Calderdale.

“Local authorities have been virtually wiped out and can no longer provide the mental health support services that young people need. Schools can barely afford to put teachers in front of students let alone stretch their already crippled budgets to pay for these services.”

The school in South Elmsall, near Wakefield, is part of the district’s Future in Mind programme, which promotes good emotional wellbeing and mental health for young people. A trained Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) practitioner spends time on site, giving guidance to staff and raising awareness amongst parents and students about issues and wellbeing strategies.

Across the region, in North Yorkshire, Compass BUZZ, a mental health and wellbeing project, has been training school professionals to support the mental health of young people since its launch last September.

Its latest figures show 94 per cent of schools have completed at least the first level of training offered through the scheme, which in January also launched a confidential text message service for children aged 11 to 18 to express mental health and wellbeing concerns. Part of the project’s focus is on prevention, early help and reducing stigma, says Emma Tymon, team leader. “If a young person has a mental health condition that comes out early in life, the support needs to be there to make sure it doesn’t escalate further than it needs to.”

Ray Henshaw, principal at Minsthorpe Community College.

Ray Henshaw, principal at Minsthorpe Community College.

‘Young People and Mental Health in a Changing World’, has been chosen as the theme of today’s World Mental Health Day. The World Federation for Mental Health wants to put the spotlight on issues today’s youth and young adults are facing and begin conversation around what they need to grow up “healthy, happy and resilient”.

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At the Time Out Project, run by mental health charity Healthy Minds in Calderdale, early intervention and building resilience is at the core, says team leader Tara Guha. The scheme helps all young people aged 10 to 19, not just those with mental health concerns, to access a range of local activities. It also offers workshops around issues including self-harm and body image and delivers sessions in schools to raise students’ awareness of mental health, self-care and getting support.

“The project has been shaped by young people themselves, who told us that getting out of the house, meeting people and doing something they enjoy is likely to help them ‘feel good and stay well’”, Tara explains.

Kiah Hamilton-Adams, aged 19, began volunteering with Healthy Minds last year, with part of her role involving going into schools to tell her story.

Aged 12, her self-esteem hit rock bottom and she began starving herself, eating less and less to try to make herself feel better, before later turning to ‘boys and dating’. At 17, Huddersfield-born Kiah attended counselling, around two years after she began campaigning for better mental health services for young people as a member of a youth council in her mid-teens. “It made me feel better about myself and brought out my self-confidence,” she explains. “I stopped having to find unhealthy methods with coping with the way I felt about myself”

At age 22, Rebecca Robinson, a young person living in Leeds, who took seven years to reach out for help after starting to experience mental health problems at the age of 13, says it is only now that she is learning healthy coping strategies to manage stress and potential crisis. “If this is taught from a young age, then it could potentially reduce the risk of developing stress-related mental health conditions in the future,” she says.

This year has seen no shortage of reports on the mental health of the country’s young people, with many highlighting a need for change.

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Charity YoungMinds says it is fighting for a new era for young people’s mental health, where help is available to every young person who reaches out. It is a “critical time” to ensure more money is put into the children’s mental health system, Tom Madders, director of campaigns says, and to address a “black hole” in community mental health support, “so that every young person has a place to go to feel safe, work through their problems and learn strategies to start to feel better”.

“What we need locally and nationally is strengthened links between schools, GPs and mental health services, in order to improve prevention and early support,” says David Smith, chief executive of the Hull and East Yorkshire branch of mental health charity Mind. The number of children and young people turning to the organisation for help is increasing every year, he says, many facing challenges around exams, relationships and social media.

Phil Eve, aged 30, has volunteered with the charity for two-and-a-half years, including with its young people’s project peer support group for 13 to 18-year-olds. He experienced depression, low mood and anxiety from his early teens, going on to seek help aged 21.

It is important to reassure young people that the “expectations of the real world aren’t as high as they think they are”, he says. “They need to be reassured that there are many people experiencing poor mental health and that they aren’t alone and there are organisations willing to help.”

“It is vital to make poor mental health something that can be talked about openly so that young people don’t feel as though they have to battle it alone”, Donna Hackleton,of the Fia Not campaign, agrees. The Wakefield-based organisation, set up in memory of Sophia Theobald, an aspiring mental health nurse who took her own life, aims to open a safe house for people in mental health crisis.

“Education is the key,” Donna says. “In schools and work alike, teachers and employers need to know how to handle mental health and point people in the right direction to get help, as well as offering ways to improve self worth and confidence.”

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Global summit

A spokesperson for the Department for Health and Social Care said it was “transforming” mental health services for children and young people in England with an extra £1.4bn.

“We are on track to ensure that 70,000 more children a year have access to specialist mental health care by 2020/21. We are improving access to mental health services through schools with a brand new dedicated workforce and piloting a four week waiting time standard in some areas.”

Meanwhile, the first Global Ministerial Mental Health summit is underway in London involving political figures, experts and policy makers around the world coming together with the focus of better mental health for all.