Having a positive physical, social and mental state is key to individuals achieving their personal goals and participating fully in society. This is why at YMCA we take a holistic approach, encouraging and supporting people to lead active and healthy lives from an early age, right through to adulthood.
Currently, more than three in 10 adults and one in 10 young people in Wales do not participate in any physical activity each week. To encourage more young people to participate in physical activity and help cement it in their lives, it is important that a wide range of opportunities are available.
Women and girls repeatedly spoke of a frustration with the lack of sporting opportunities afforded to them. As such, schemes should focus specifically on increasing opportunities for women and girls to increase their participation.
Many people also highlighted cost as one of the biggest barriers to being active, due to the reduction in community spaces that they can use free of charge.
YMCA, therefore, believes the Welsh Government should look to reduce the cost for people accessing local sports and leisure centres via the introduction of a national Teen Nights initiative, which allows young people to access local sports and leisure centres across Wales for free or a significantly subsidised rate. This would involve each centre putting on targeted youth activity built around sports and physical activity every Friday or Saturday night.
It is vital that physical activity is complemented with a healthy, balanced diet. Parents and families have a big impact on the eating habits of young people and given that three in five adults in Wales are classified as obese, there is clearly a need for interventions targeted at the family level.
However, the focus on being fit, healthy and having a balanced diet must not contribute to the pressures increasingly felt by people to look a certain way. More than half the UK population suffers from body image anxiety, a leading cause of depression, low self-esteem, poor participation at school and lack of progression at work.
It particularly affects young people with appearance now being listed as the largest single concern for a third of girls and a fifth of boys by the age of 10.
YMCA believes the Welsh Government has an important role to play in putting pressure on media, businesses and advertisers in Wales to act responsibly and promote health and body diversity to help increase body confidence.
Access to health services is also critical for people to lead healthy lives; however, currently, many marginalised groups do not feel able to access the services they need. It is vital that the specific health needs of these individuals, including those from the LGBT community, are addressed and that they feel able to access services.
Substance misuse can have a dramatic impact on a person’s health and prospects. While there has been a fall in the numbers drinking and using drugs in recent years, it is important that rehabilitation and support services are properly funded and that people in need feel able to access them without fear of criminalisation.
In addition, given the growth in the use of psychoactive substances and the challenge of taking a conventional enforcement approach, YMCA calling for the Welsh Government to launch a national awareness campaign targeted at young people. This should provide impartial harm reduction messaging about psychoactive substances to help them make informed decisions.
As well as focussing on physical health, YMCA believes it is important that mental health, as one of the biggest concerns raised by YMCA service users, is seen as a priority for the Welsh Government.
As a result of mental health issues, many people can feel isolated, unhappy, suffer from eating disorders, inflict self-harm and, tragically, even take their own lives.
One in four adults experience mental health problems or illnesses at some point in their lifetimes. Mental health and wellbeing is poorest in the deprived areas of Wales and these problems can often be passed through generations and can extend cycles of inequality.
With one in 20 children and young people in Wales now suffering from a diagnosable mental health disorder and referrals to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) increasing by over 100% during the course of the last Assembly, the pressing need for action is clear.
Given that more than half of all adults with mental health problems were diagnosed during their childhood, it is important that the Welsh Government provides training in mental health support and counselling to all those working with young and vulnerable people to enable them to identify the signs early and signpost to relevant support services.
While this focus on early identification is important, it is critical that the mental health services to which people are referred are both accessible and fit for purpose. YMCA, therefore, believes the Welsh Government should ensure parity in funding between mental health and physical health, as well as between adult and child and adolescent mental health services within Welsh NHS budgets.
A key aim of the increased funding should be to reduce the rising waiting lists, remodel mental health services away from a medical and clinic based mode and to encourage more community and outreach delivery of services built around the needs of the people it supports.
- Commit to maintain and increase funding for young people to participate in a wide range of sports and physical activity in and outside of school.
- Ensure parity between access to sport and physical activity across the genders.
- Introduce a national Teen Nights initiative, which allows young people to access local sports and leisure centres for free or at a significantly subsidised rate every Friday or Saturday night.
- Maintain and enhance the public spaces available for communities to access.
- Support initiatives in schools and communities that encourage young people and individuals to participate in purchasing and cooking healthy meals.
- Put pressure on media, businesses and advertisers to act responsibly and promote different and healthy body shapes, sizes, ages and ethnicities.
- Ensure traditionally marginalised groups are able to access appropriate health care.
- Ensure that rehabilitation and support services are properly funded to help those with substance abuse issues and ensure that they are accessible without fear of criminalisation.
- Launch a national awareness campaign targeted at young people, which provides harm reduction messaging relating to psychoactive substances.
- Provide mental health support and counselling training to all professionals working, or frequently interacting, with young and vulnerable people.
- Give mental health the same priority as physical health within Welsh NHS budgets.
- Reduce waiting times for people accessing mental health services.
- Reform mental health services away from a medical and clinic based model by encouraging more community and outreach delivery of services.