Banner - Health and Wellbeing

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.

Staying healthy is often about the lifestyle choices we make and cost is seen by many as one of the biggest barriers to being healthy and active. Where previously cost would not be such a significant factor, the reduction in community spaces in which young people can be physically active has resulted in the only options available being the ones that have a financial cost associated with them.

A common influence on a young person’s health is their relationship with alcohol and drugs. Although there has been a recent decline in the amount of time young people drink during the week they are now more prone to heavy episodic or binge drinking when they do.

From speaking to young people we know that limiting access to drugs and alcohol is the most effective way to stop usage. However, achieving this is remarkably difficult. What is needed instead is an effective young person led awareness campaign in schools and youth settings which tackles the dangers of using alcohol and drugs irresponsibly.

Likewise, when young people do reach out for support it is essential that they are able to access specialist advice and peer support to ensure young people are able to get help when and where they need it.

As well as focussing on physical health, YMCA believes that the next government needs to prioritise children and young people’s mental health. One in 10 children and young people are thought to have a diagnosed mental health difficulty.

While these figures alone are significant, recent YMCA research showed that they may only be scratching the surface when it comes to the numbers of children and young people actually experiencing difficulties with their mental health.

However, despite increased public awareness and recognition of mental health, three quarters of children and young people still believe that there is a stigma associated with experiencing mental health difficulties, something that stops them speaking out and seeking help. Education and awareness lie at the heart of normalising mental health difficulties and overcoming this stigma experienced by young people.

When young people do seek help, it is important the services they need are readily available. However, challenges within the National Health Service (NHS) still remain as those young people seeking support from Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) are finding it increasingly difficult to access.

It is estimated that only a quarter of those in need are currently able to access mental health services, and those able to do so face increasingly long waiting lists before they are able to access support.

With the NHS unable to meet the needs of young people, early intervention strategies that work within schools and communities to relieve pressure are required. This needs to include peer-to-peer schemes, placing more nurses and practitioners in schools, as well as requiring all professionals working
or frequently interacting with young people to be provided with mental health training.

We know that what it means to be healthy is of importance to young people and the way their body and image is perceived matters immensely. More than half the UK population suffers from body image anxiety, a leading cause of depression, low self-esteem and poor participation at school. It particularly affects young people, with more than half of 11 to 16-year-olds saying they often worry about the way they look and 30% agreeing that they sometimes avoided taking part in certain activities because they were worried about the way they look.

Tackling body image anxiety requires the responsible portrayal of body image by the advertising, fashion, media and music industries, as well as teaching young people about body image in school to critically evaluate the messages they receive, and to enable them to feel more confident about


  • Invest in early intervention mental health services for young people in schools and communities, including targeted campaigns that addresses the lack of knowledge and stigma surrounding mental health difficulties
  • Ensure all professionals working or frequently interacting with young people are provided with mental health training
  • Cut waiting times for young people accessing mental health services
  • Encourage organisations to sign up to the Be Real Body Image Pledge
  • Encourage schools to become settings that promote and foster body confidence among young people
  • Commit to protect and enhance investment in community sport initiatives which engage young people in physical activity
  • Maintain and enhance free or low-cost spaces where young people can participate in sports and physical activity
  • Deliver a coordinated awareness campaign in schools and youth settings which tackles the dangers of using alcohol and drugs irresponsibly
  • Equip drug and alcohol support teams with training in how to help young people when and where they need it, in particularly in relation to new psychoactive substances