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Mental health can’t be tackled in a vacuum

As the Prime Minister announces more support for mental health, Nerys Anthony, Catch22's Director of Young People, Health and Wellbeing comments on what must come next.

09 January 2017

Today the Prime Minister acknowledged that not only is mental health a challenge for young people; but that it is a challenge we as a society must come together to answer.

Emotional wellbeing and mental health can’t be viewed – or tackled – in a vacuum. It’s not a bolt on, and must be seen as an integrated part of a young person’s care. Too often we work with young people with easily diagnosable conditions, conditions that slip under the radar until the child ends up with greater needs. The fact is – as the Prime Minister points out – that there are some distinct groups of young people who evidence shows have poorer mental health outcomes. By offering targeted mental health support for those groups, such as young people in care, we can expect to see significant progress. The earlier any issues are identified, the better; evidence shows that supporting children at a younger age has a meaningful impact on both their emotional wellbeing, and their future success.

Embedding emotional health into the curriculum

This begins as early as primary school. Embedding emotional wellbeing into the curriculum will both reduce stigma and the long term strain on mental health provision and wider public services. If every child starting school took part in social and emotional engagement assessments any immediate needs could be addressed then built on when there is an identifiable risk factor. This assessment of emotional health needs to be included within the Ofsted inspection framework.

A partnership approach

But we can’t expect this to just fall on schools. Parents, families, carers, teachers, social workers and family support workers must all come together to ensure that the mental health needs of a young person are met. It is right that the Prime Minister promises that children will be supported in their local area. With effective commissioning and family support, a young person should expect to have any mental health issues identified, treated and monitored where they live. Even better if this can be where they feel most comfortable; schools, community centres and at home.

Uncharted territory

We’re entering uncharted territory for mental health. We are yet to understand the impact of new technology and new ways of communicating. While social media can have a positive effect on young people, it can also leave young people feeling anxious and isolated. The answer to this will come from both the new and the old. The old is what works, and what has always worked; building trusted relationships, co-designing services with young people at the centre and making them part of the solution. The new is innovation, exploring pathways to ensure young people are supported, wherever and whatever their circumstance.