For young people, mental health is of increasing concern and high on their priority list of issues that need addressed; yet they feel strongly that enough isn’t being done by policy makers and service commissioners to support them.
This is the clear message coming through from the recent launch of two research reports, ‘Still Waiting’, a right’s-based review by NICCY of children and young people’s mental health services and support, and 'Elephant in the Room’, led by the young people of the NI Youth Forum, Children’s Law Centre and Belfast Youth Forum, and exploring young people’s awareness of mental health in NI. These important research reports identify a number of ways in which we continue to fail the children and young people we work with and for:
- Mental health isn’t seen as a priority when compared to physical health, particularly in education and in universal preventative approaches
- For those young people who need specialist support, waiting lists, inaccessible services and unclear referral pathways continue to create a barrier
- Stigma around mental health is a very real issue which is stopping young people from seeking support. This is compounded by the negative language used, and the focus on crisis control rather than universal promotion of positive wellbeing
We know that around a fifth of young people will be suffering significant mental health problems by their 18th birthday (DoH). For adults with severe or long-term mental ill-health, a large percentage will have experienced symptoms by mid-teens. Suicide rates across Northern Ireland, particularly young men, are disproportionately high compared to other regions in the UK. Despite this, NICCY reports that only 8% of the mental health budget is spent on Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services in NI.
Beyond the headline statistics, we actually know relatively little about the emotional health and wellbeing needs of our children and young people in Northern Ireland, and the issues that they face day to day. Social media, increasing pressure to achieve academically and the complex nature of family life and relationships are all central to the discussion. A population prevalence study has been called for numerous times over the years, notably in the Bamford Review and more recently, by the Commissioner for Children and Young People, however hasn’t been carried out to date. Despite this, we continue to develop programmes and services, unclear as to whether these address the changing needs and experiences of our young people.
So what do we, as policy makers and practitioners, need to do to better support children and young people? Firstly, we need to move away from fire-fighting, rather, channel funds towards an effective, universal approach to promoting positive wellbeing, helping children and young people to build resilience, self-esteem and self-regulation; all skills that have been shown to help children and young people cope with difficult experiences. We also need to make a concerted effort to gather statistics on the needs of young people upon which to base future service development, and critically, supplement this with the voices of children and young people as service users, ensuring services are based on evidence of need and fit for purpose in a world with ever more complex challenges.
NCB is pleased to have the opportunity to contribute through our work with The Departments of Health and Education, and the Public Health Agency, to inform the development of a Framework for Emotional Health and Wellbeing for Children and Young People. Research activities are nearing completion; we are currently out and about visiting schools to gather examples of good practice in supporting positive emotional health and wellbeing. We look forward to being able to bring you details of our findings, and proposals for the way ahead, early in the New Year.
For further information, please contact Claire Dorris email@example.com