Prior to joining the Charityworks programme, my previous experience of the non-profit sector was confined to volunteering with Nightline while at university. There are Nightlines at universities all over the country, providing an anonymous and confidential listening service run by students, for students. My involvement in the committee and love for the work we did was the main reason I applied for Charityworks, and, on reflection, I believe the main reason I was accepted onto the programme. As a result, I came into my position on the Media Team at Mind with an acute awareness of student mental health. Throughout my time at university, national headlines revealed upsetting statistics on student suicide. Our own campus wellbeing services struggled to offer appointments and waiting times dragged under the strain of demand. Finally, as a listening volunteer for Nightline, I heard first-hand the struggles of some of my fellow students, many of their difficulties rooted in depression, anxiety and the legacy of mental health issues that had not been properly addressed while living at home.
I for one therefore, was very pleased to learn that the theme for this year’s World Mental Health Day is ‘Young People and Mental Health in a Changing World’. I have long believed in the importance of young people’s wellbeing and mental health education starting early, a stance backed by research from the WHO, who consider that half of all mental illness begins by the age of 14, but many of these cases go undetected and untreated. My short time so far on the media team with Mind has only served to reinforce that belief. One of my daily tasks is collating a roundup of mental health news stories of note to be sent around the organisation, and I’ve been overwhelmed at the amount of coverage on children and young peoples’ mental health.
In the UK, barely a day goes by without a new headline relating to the topic. Demand for young people’s mental health services far outstrips supply, as a recent report from the Education Policy Institute has found that almost a quarter of children who sought help were turned away last year. This included those who had self-harmed or suffered abuse, with the most common cited reason for rejection being that their conditions were ‘not serious enough’ to meet treatment eligibility requirements. Even then, those whose conditions are ‘bad enough’ to warrant help can be sent hundreds of miles across the country away from their homes and families in order to receive specialist treatment. Meanwhile at universities, one in three first year students ‘show symptoms of mental health disorders’ according to a new major study, demonstrating the significant numbers of students who go to university with pre-existing problems. While many universities are now thankfully paying attention to the psychological and emotional needs of their students, it has taken the loss of 95 students to suicide in the year to July 2017 to really bring national attention to the situation. The reason behind the rise of demand for mental health services and arguable decline of young people’s wellbeing? Therein lies the big question, but the impact of the internet and social media usage is often cited, with the chief of Barnardo’s and UK Health Secretary expressing concerns about their effect on young people’s mental health.
Through my experience of media monitoring however, I have also come to appreciate the importance of the ‘World’ in ‘World Mental Health Day’, as it is only too clear that poor mental health affects young people across the globe. Two in every five women globally who take their own lives are Indian, and by a large margin those women are young people, aged below 35. Specialists are in part blaming the trend on the deeply rooted culture of child marriage, as a fifth of Indian women still marry before the age of 15. Meanwhile studies conducted on Syrian refuges in Lebanon have identified the enormously detrimental effect of the refugee crisis on young people’s mental health, with 41% reported having thought about taking their own lives. Having fled warzones and witnessed family and friends killed, around 44% of Syrian children have shown signs of depression, and 45% are thought to be suffering from PTSD – 10 times the prevalence of children elsewhere in the world.
But even in those communities unaffected by the upheaval of conflict and challenging cultural traditions, the mental wellbeing of young people is still often cause for concern. In indigenous communities in Australia, the Torres Strait Islands and Canada, young people’s suicides rates are worryingly high. A recent article addressed that Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander suicides comprise 6% of Australia’s total suicides, but shockingly, 80% of child suicides aged 12 and below are of Aboriginal children. In Canada, First Nation communities have been forced to declare states of emergency in the aftermath of multiple suicides of young people in the same reservation. Again, the influence and arrival of the internet in these communities has been blamed, but arguably the fact that many members of these indigenous groups live below the poverty line, facing limited future prospects and seemingly insurmountable disparities compared with the rest of the population, is more convincing.
Cultural, economic and geopolitical contexts obviously vary, but whether it is conflict, child marriage, or the impact of the internet and social media, young people around the world are exposed to huge mental pressures. It is upsetting, but the importance of addressing the issue of young people’s mental health on a global scale is one that cannot be stressed enough. Good mental health begins with mental resilience from an early age and understanding of early warning signs of mental illnesses will hopefully begin to build a culture of understanding around them. It’s not only our job at mental health charities like Mind to raise awareness of mental health for the current adult population, but to recognise the need to address young people around the world as well.
Blog by Tessa Boyd, Media Volunteer Assistant at Mind
My name is Tessa, and I’m a recent graduate from the University of Exeter. As part of the Charityworks graduate scheme I’ve been placed with the Media Team at Mind, the mental health charity, at their Head Office in London. My role as Media Volunteer Assistant involves monitoring our press inbox and phone, dealing with journalist enquiries, drafting comments for the media, and managing our Media Volunteers – members of the public who are happy to share their stories of mental health with the media.