It can feel like everywhere I look nowadays there’s someone talking about a new way of looking at mental health or a new terrifying statistic about the number of young people in the UK with mental health issues. The power of the digital age means we can access information at a ridiculously fast rate, but does that mean we as a society miss the emotional aspects of an emotionally charged issue? Are we remembering to care for those coping with mental health, as well as diagnose and treat them? Mental health in young people is becoming a major part of the modern era- I see it in my friends, colleagues and family – but sometimes I get the impression that we’re all too caught up in the statistics that we may not provide enough support for the emotional consequences of dealing with a mental health problem as a young person. Understanding mental health is not just about finding a solution. It’s about helping someone realise “I am not alone in this. What I am feeling is okay. I can get through this”.
Mental health problems affect 1 in 10 children and young people. Saying it like that may not sound like much compared to the 1 in 6 people experiencing a common mental health problem every week in England or the 1 in 4 who will experience a mental health problem each year. But that’s a tenth of our children, teenagers and young adults coping with issues such as anxiety, depression and more. A tenth of children who should be focused on playing outside but instead are learning coping mechanisms for feelings they don’t even understand yet. A tenth of young people who should be developing into strong and confident adults, but are instead looking into therapy or medications to fight inner demons. Anyone with a shred of compassion should not find that an easy statement to accept.
Mental health problems can manifest themselves in young people in so many different forms but some of the most common issues include depression, self harm, anxiety, PTSD and eating disorder. Yes, you’ve read that right. A tenth of UK children and young people are depressed, anxious, causing them selves pain, traumatised or have an unhealthy relationship with food.
*shouts for the people at the back* THIS IS NOT OKAY.
The causes or triggers are numerous and widely varying. Childhood and adolescence are trying times on their own, with all their own emotional ups and downs, but sometimes University life seems to be becoming more and more of a struggle for some students, and institutions like Bristol are putting such effort into a stronger support systems after the student suicide rate kept rising. Schools are becoming pressure cookers for young people, where we’re forced to make countless decisions about our lives before we’ve really had a chance to live. I was driven and confident at school, but even then I had no clue what exactly I wanted to be. Which in my opinion, is exactly how it should be. The number of young girls being admitted to hospital because of self harm should not have doubled in the past 20 years. And to top it all off, the media bombards young boys and girls with images of what “attractive” looks like, causing many to turn to eating disorders just to fit in. And don’t even get me started on the impact of “celebrities” like the Kardashians glorifying anorexia and looks-based value. I for one am exhausted just writing all that out, let alone staying strong against it all.
So are we doing all we can for our young people?
The simple answer is no. Obviously we could do more, if we weren’t limited by finances or time or resources. With all the power in the world, we could maybe, just maybe, do enough to help every young person feel supported for the whole picture of who they are. But we can’t, because this isn’t a film and we can’t just make the rules to suit us. (No matter how much I want to give adults half terms and 4 month summer holidays…)
There are systems in place for young people and children facing mental health issues, which we see first-hand in the social work sector, but these services are starting to disintegrate. There’s been a 30% fall in available hospital beds for acute mental health conditions and 60% of children referred to mental healthcare in England aren’t getting treated. Our hearts are in the right place, but we’re not following through with sufficient action.
What can we do?
I make no claims to have all the answers. I strongly believe we are all a work in progress, so to be honest, I don’t think anyone has the categorical right solution. But there are small ways we can start to show support to our young people. The words therapy and counselling still have a negative stigma attached. This is stopping us all from taking the step towards help. “70% of children and young people who experience a mental health problem did not have appropriate interventions at a suitable early age.” We need to recognise and accept that mental health doesn’t just affect those who have grown up and have been worn down by life. Mental health in the young is just as important and just as worrying. We’ve already made great strides in terms of helping provide the medical and psychological help for mental health issues; so why not look at the emotional as well? People can feel embarassed or ashamed, causing them to not seek treatment which only perpetuates the issue. Let’s start understanding how those struggling with mental health might be feeling and how we can show our support.
1. Be the shoulder to lean on.
It’s time for the stories about young people facing stigma within their family because of their mental health to end. It’s hard enough to work on yourself and try to defeat an issue that feels insurmountable without those you’re closest to making you feel bad about it. So don’t judge your sibling for asking to go to therapy, respect them for looking after themselves and offer to go with them. Don’t mock your friend for their “quirks” that come from coping with OCD. If you see your anorexic friend eating, then don’t make a big deal about it but let them know you’re proud and supporting them.
2. Listen to informative podcasts.
We’re a society of podcast listeners. Even if you’re not struggling with mental health right now, listening to podcasts that expand your knowledge and understanding of what goes through people’s head when they are tackling depression, OCD or other issues. My current obsession is Susan Calman’s “Mrs Brightside: A Cheerful Take on Depression”. She “likes to make misery funny” and does so in the most honest and human way imaginable. There are 8 conversations with other comedians and actors covering different mental health issues and it has completely blown my mind. (Before you all panic about endorsements, neither One Stop Social or myself gain anything from Susan Calman for mentioning this. Though I’d love to have a cuppa and biscuits with her if she’s free. Just saying.)
3. Make social media a healthy place
I love social media. It’s a great way to connect with people. But it’s also toxic. We see people posting about their gym habits and it affects our self confidence. We compare our “beach bodies” to our friends and it cripples our self-esteem. What if though social media was the platform where we could turn for motivation, encouragement and emotional support? Surely that is what a community of “friends” should be? So let’s give instagram accounts like positive body image enthusiasts “i_weigh” (started by British actress and ex-T4 presenter Jameela Jamil) more followers than diet companies. Let’s remember that healthy and stick-thin do not mean the same thing.
4. Take off the pressure
Why do schools have to be so tense? What happened to the childhoods of days gone by where we loved being a kid? When did we all get so obsessed with academic performance and standardised tests? I’d love to be part of a world that celebrated every child for their own gifts and skills, rather than making us feel bad because we don’t fit into a certain box. We’re all made to be different, time we focus on the benefits that brings rather than how we all try to be similar.
By Elena Jones, Marketing Executive at One Stop Social.