As Chair of the Youth Select Committee on Young People’s Mental Health, I warmly welcomed Theresa May’s pledge to overhaul mental health and to give parity of esteem for children and young people’s mental health with their physical health.
The Youth Select Committee is a British Youth Council initiative, supported by the House of Commons and the pledge gives priority to key recommendations in the Youth Select Committee’s 2015 report. The issue of mental health was a top issue in the Make Your Mark youth ballot of 2015; the biggest youth consultation in the country, which saw more than 108 000 young people aged 11-18 vote for it as a top issue of concern.
This issue is also one close to my heart too, I have campaigned locally and been a part of the mental health debate from the age of 14. Starting in my county of Shropshire I took part in council initiatives, NHS research and support projects; listened to young people engaged with CAMHS and school mental health services and campaigned for improvement as a Member of UK Youth Parliament. Knowing family members, friends and many in my community struggle deeply with mental health, it was this injustice which motivated me to want to be a part of the Youth Select Committee. It makes me proud that such a common injustice is now being giving the attention it is long overdue.
The Youth Select Committee found a large range of issues facing young people’s mental health. Such issues include an absence of support and signposting in schools, bullying online, stigma around the discussion of mental health and the growing pressures and decreasing funding, as causes of a youth mental health crises. In response the committee made a few but vital recommendations, based on awareness, education and services. These include but are not limited to: commissioners appointed to local areas, the design of a trusted mental health app, mental health first aid training and an extremely important proportionate increase and ring-fencing of young people’s mental health services budget. The recent response to the committee’s recommendation of the focus on teacher training and mental health first aid in schools is particularly welcome, as in our research we found it common for education to be the cause or trigger of mental health issues such as anxiety. It is an alarming fact that 340 000 5-10 year olds suffer from a mental disorder and this figure increases with teenagers – affecting both their social life and their education. The Committee recommends that teacher training be specific and mandatory and that it focuses on how to respond, how to spot problems and where to refer.
A young person with mental health issues cannot succeed to their full potential in the current learning environment and a holistic, whole school approach with training for all is a key step forward in improving students’ academic abilities and mental wellbeing.
However, there is still work do be done, I am keen to hear if the government will also accept and instil the committee’s recommendation to have a mental health nurse or councillor who is fully trained in schools. The achievement of parity of esteem between one’s physical health and ones mental health is of grave concern, and although teacher training in mental health and signposting is very important, a fully qualified mental health nurse/councillor is necessary to provide a wider service to meet the need. Though this is only a cog in the work, to truly deal with the growing mental health crises, the government must consider an increase and ring fence of key services budgets for mental health. The case for need is there. Additionally, the economic case provides only further evidence we are creating a backlog of individuals with mental health issues which will be harder and more expensive to deal in adulthood, yet the majority of mental health funding is in adult hood. Prevention is better than cure. But nevertheless, this is a great and brilliant pledge by Theresa May. The Government has taken a welcomed step forward for young people and mental heath and I hope there are many more steps to come down this long road.