Children and adolescent mental health care has been on the news a lot recently, and very rightly so. There is a real problem in the lack of mental health services available to young people, and the ease of access to them. According to the ‘Mental Health Foundation’, 1 in 10 children and young people are affected by mental health problems. Alarmingly, 70% of these youngsters do not receive appropriate support at a sufficiently early age, or stage in the progression of their metal health problem. Many would argue that the root cause of this problem is the severe lack of funding that the mental health sector receives as well as difficulties in recruiting health professionals in this field such as mental health nurses and psychiatrists.
In one article that I read, it said that Specialist mental health services are turning away 23% of children and young people referred to them, often because there are “high thresholds” for accessing services. It also claimed that one organisation would not accept those who have expressed suicidal thoughts unless they had done so on more than one occasion! This lack of support for mentally ill young people at such a crucial time in their lives (where they are growing and developing, both emotionally and intellectually) could have a negative and drastic impact on the rest of their lives.
If correct therapy and support mechanisms aren’t put in place, youngsters suffering from mental illness could potentially resort to other measures that they feel relieve them of their mental anguish, for example, unhealthy habits such as drinking, smoking or taking recreational drugs. In fact, in the Mental Health Foundation’s ‘Living with anxiety’ report, it says that 16% of people use alcohol to deal with anxiety, whereas 10% use cigarettes. Of course, this report focuses on anxiety, not other mental health problems, and focussed on all mental health suffered, and not specifically children and young people, however, these coping mechanisms could be reciprocated by young sufferers of other mental health conditions such as depression. This not only causes harm to these young people as it could lead to addiction and/or secondary health problems, but it then puts additional pressure on the NHS when these diseases must be treated.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom! I read this article recently about a new mental health app for young people. It aims to help young people who are worried or stressed, which isn’t uncommon in the current climate in which academic excellence is demanded at younger and younger ages, the prospect of university, tuition fees, social pressures etc. The organisers of the app say that it helps people recognise their own stress trigger points and develops coping mechanisms. Being a firm believer in the power of early intervention and myself feeling very strongly about the impacts that mental health can have, I find this very encouraging. What this app aims to do is deal with ill mental health (for example excessive worry or stress) before it begins to worsen (for example into something like severe anxiety disorders). It’s an outlet for negative feelings and provides support on how to deal with them, and it delivers this free service in a very age appropriate way. This is an extremely positive development.
Of course, more funding for these extremely valuable mental health services must increase in order for this issue to be resolved. However, I truly do believe that early intervention is one of the ways forward. Youth with mental health problems should be given support early on, before their problems begin to exacerbate and require specialist treatment. In my opinion, others in the community, such as teachers and youth workers should be intensively trained on how to deal with acute mental illness and how to go about organising and providing the level of care required, before the condition begins to worsen. This training could be in the form of intensive youth MHFA courses for example.
There is still a lot to be done in improving mental health services for young people. Raising awareness and self help opportunities (such as the app) are all positive advancements in tackling this huge issue, but ultimately, it is the lack of funding towards this ever so important service that is the root cause.
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I'm a 17 year old aspiring doctor from the UK, studying A-levels in Biology, Chemistry & Maths. I enjoy blogging about various different issues in healthcare and science.