Introducing the IF/FRFG mental health blog week

MENTAL HEALTH BLOG WEEK. To mark the beginning of a week of IF blogs on the subject of young people and mental health, IF’s Senior Researcher David Kingman explains what we have in store for our readers

It’s Time to Talk Day on Thursday 7 February, a campaign run by the Time to Change social movement which is designed to try to encourage people to talk more openly about their experiences of mental ill-health.

To coincide with this, IF is working in tandem with our German sister organisation the Foundation for the Rights of Future Generations (FRFG) to run a week of blogs on the subject of young people and the mental health challenges that they face.

Early intervention

Why do we think that young people’s mental health problems deserve to receive a higher profile? Using the definition of mental health which is employed by the World Health Organization as “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community”, we think there is evidence to suggest that many young people are not able to satisfy all of these important criteria.

There is an increasing volume of evidence which suggests that large numbers of young people experience mental health problems, yet too many of them do not receive appropriate interventions in a sufficiently timely manner. According to the Mental Health Foundation, 20% of adolescents may experience a mental health problem in any given year, and 50% of long-term mental health problems are established by age 14, yet 70% of children and adolescents who experience mental health problems have not had appropriate interventions at an early-enough age.

Given the high long-term costs which chronic mental health conditions can impose on wider society in terms of unemployment, increased hospitalisations and interactions with the criminal justice system, it seems likely that making appropriate interventions to try to help young people who may be struggling at an early age would yield a very positive return on the public money invested over the long term. However, an alarming report from the Education Policy Institute last year suggested that there are wide variations between different areas of the country in how easy it is for young people to access Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), and in some places large numbers of young people were rejected for treatment despite evincing serious symptoms of mental ill-health, including having self-harmed.

Even when young people are able to access treatment, there is an additional problem that discontinuities in care tend to occur when they reach 18 – the so-called “cliff edge” – which is a major problem given the ongoing nature of many mental health disorders.

Although there has been a welcome improvement in the amount of attention which NHS policy-makers appear to be giving to mental health services in general, and those which are aimed at younger people in particular, most notably The Five Year Forward View for Mental Health, it is very important to ensure that these ideals actually translate into improved outcomes for patients and that the momentum surrounding the agenda of improving mental health treatment doesn’t run out of steam before it has started to produce results.

Expert opinions

An impressive range of experts and stakeholders from the world of children and young people’s mental health have kindly agreed to contribute to our blog week, which will see one or two articles being posted every day from Monday to Friday this week (and which will also be published on the FRFG’s website).

  • Monday 4 February (13:00 hr): Helen Hayes, the Labour MP for Dulwich and West Norwood, talks about why she feels passionate about young people’s mental health issues, and why more Government action and funding are urgently required.
  • Tuesday 5 February (09:00 hr): Sophie Corlett, from the mental health charity Mind, has written about the dangers of an inadequate response to the increase in young people’s mental health problems.
  • Tuesday 5 February (13:00 hr): Grace Brownfield, from the debt charity StepChange, writes about the link between mental health difficulties and the economic pressure which today’s young people are under.
  • Wednesday 6 February (09:00 hr): Kadra Abdinasir, from the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition, discusses the problem of the cliff edge in the provision of services as young people transition to adult services.
  • Wednesday 6 February (13:00 hr): Joe Levenson, from the Young Women’s Trust, looks at the specific mental health pressures facing young women.
  • Thursday 7 February (09:00 hr): Sonia Arakkal, from the Australian young people’s lobby group Think Forward, explains the situation in Australia, and why the youth mental health crisis should be treated as a symptom of intergenerational inequality.
  • Thursday 7 February (13:00 hr): Dr Avirup Gupta, a practising NHS psychiatrist, describes his own observations of the problems in transitions between child and adolescent and adult care, and proposes some solutions.
  • Friday 8 February (09:00 hr): Matt Jordan, who works on the Health Foundation’s Young people’s future health inquiry, describes how the transition to adulthood can look like a cliff edge, and sets out the conditions that can make all the difference in successfully addressing this.

We are very grateful to all our blog authors for agreeing to take part, and for the work which our colleagues at FRFG have graciously done to help turn this project into a reality. We hope the result is a stimulating week of reading material, and that it will help maintain the pressure on policy-makers to give the issue of young people’s mental health the attention and the funding that it so urgently needs.

Image by Sharosh Rajasekher on Unsplash: