Late last year, YMCA England’s Policy team spent a lot of time out on the road, hosting events, speaking to staff and working with young people to determine the main issues that affected them.
While we might have suspected this, hearing it straight from the horse’s mouth always makes the message hit home a little bit harder.
Young people’s lives and futures are being compromised as a result of poor mental health.
- Mental health should be given the same priority as physical health.
- Waiting times for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) need to be cut to one week.
- Professionals interacting with young people should be trained in mental health issues.
- The age limit for CAMHS should be raised to 21.
- A specific young person-focused campaign should be run to raise the awareness of mental health issues.
The priority that YMCA has placed on young people’s mental health is why I was particularly excited when we were successful in winning a £250,000 grant from the Department for Education to deliver a Mental Health Champions project in three areas across England (East Surrey, Worcestershire and Norfolk). We know the issues are there and so to be able to begin addressing them is really pleasing.
When developing the Mental Health Champions project we took findings from our own research and added it to the wider evidence base to understand exactly who we should be working with.
More than half of all adult mental health problems can be traced back to around the age of 14, and so if we were going to try and prevent issues in the first place, it was clear we needed to be working with children under this age. Transition stages can also be a real source of worry and so we decided that we would work with young people making that step from primary to secondary school at the age of 11. Our Manifesto findings also told us that the age limit for existing child and adolescent services should be raised to 21 and so our service will be offered to young people between the ages of 11 and 21.
The really exciting thing about the new Mental Health Champions service is that it will tackle mental health from two angles. Young volunteers will be recruited, trained and mentored to deliver mental health awareness messages to their peers in settings where young people feel comfortable, both in the community and schools and colleges. Starting that conversation is half the battle, breaking taboos and de-stigamatising mental health among young people is one of our objectives here and we deliver this message to 900 young people over the next year. But we also recognise the role that key adults can play in supporting young people and that’s why we’ll be supporting teachers, youth workers and parents to better understand the issues and how to deal with them.
CAMHS have taken a huge funding hit over the past few years and an increase in demand coupled with a decrease in capacity is simply a terrible mix. For those young people that need more intensive support but are not at a level to be accepted in to CAMHS we will offer a low level counselling service aimed at preventing the escalation of issues thus reducing the pressure on CAMHS….and importantly providing a timely service for young people who need help now. Our counsellors will also be encouraged to support young people to navigate through the local mental health offer. Low self-esteem is not conducive to proactive behaviour in seeking out the right service and so our project staff will be on hand to try and support them in to the right services at the right time. In total, our counselling offer will work intensively with 200 young people over the next year.
So by taking both a remedial and preventative approach, our project will recruit a network of young volunteers who will help raise the awareness of mental health among their peers while our counsellors will provide an additional resource to the local mental health service. This means that young people affected by poor mental health can get timely help all with the ultimate intention of improving the lives and mental health of the young people we serve.
Of course this is just one relatively small intervention that is aiming to tackle a huge and increasing issue. I would urge the new Government to look at ways of supporting the mental health agenda as there is no shortage of desire to work with our young people today to create stronger communities tomorrow.
Words by Graham Oatridge, Physical Activity Contracts Manager at YMCA England