15 years ago I sat with a young person having a psychotic episode. I’ve never felt as helpless as I did then. I had no idea how to help her, what she was feeling or experiencing as she moved between anger and aggression through to tears and depression. It took over 4 hours simply to get her home where her mother spent even longer trying to get her to take the medicine she needed. I’m pleased to say she did and regained some measure of balance in her life. 

World Mental Health Day reminds us that we are becoming far more accepting of mental health issues. At the same time, it reminds us of how far we have to go to tackle this growing crisis – particularly in young people. 

50% of mental health problems arise by the age of 14 so this is an issue that directly effects young people more than any other age group.  It is also true to say that more often than not, these mental health problems are not diagnosed until adulthood. The changing teenage brain, a propensity to take risks and an education system that pushes young people to achieve rather than grow often hides mental health issues, meaning treatment comes later than it should and the consequences are more severe.

And mental health causes damage. I sometimes see posts on Facebook simply asking for understanding and a listening ear. Both are useful but they disguise the damage that poor mental health can wreak on young lives. At best they lead to higher stress and anxiety. At worse young people miss school, suffer from broken relationships, bullying or victimization that ultimately lead to broken families, lower employment, drug use and homelessness. 

How we approach the issue

Thankfully, unlike my experience, our staff and most of those in the youth sector, now have mental health experience and training. There are also dedicated mental health charities like Off The Record who can provide longer term support and more targeted interventions.  

I’m pleased to say that Creative Youth Network now has embedded Wellbeing Practitioners within all of our work, meaning that young people now have immediate access to trained staff who can support them through issues of anxiety and depression without the need to refer to NHS services – except in the most extreme circumstances.

Whilst all political parties have committed to increased funding for mental health services, there is still little change on the ground. Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAHMS) still only supports the most severe cases. They also tend to focus on a ‘cure’ rather than long term support. 

All the evidence shows that two things make for good mental health

  • First is early intervention – when things start to change responding early is key to giving young people the tools they need to manage their own mental health early. Not waiting for things to decline.
  • The second is a support network. Whether it be friends, family or professionals, long term relationship are the key to helping young people to recover and manage their health.

Creative Youth Network does both of these things, building relationships between staff and young people and now, with our wellbeing practitioners, we are able to intervene in the right way – far more effectively than I did all those years ago.  

There's so much more we should, as a society, be doing. What are your thoughts and experience? Let us know.