Not only is the UK currently facing the COVID-19 pandemic, but there is also a looming mental health crisis. As someone who has suffered from anxiety and depression, I know firsthand the strain that the system currently functions under, having waited for more than three months to gain access to counselling services. I understand and share the frustration all young people are feeling due to the lack of mental health support.
The pandemic has taken a mental toll on people across the globe, but our mental health has been pushed to one side and COVID-19 has been made the main priority. Everyone has suffered this past year in some way, and there has been no exceptions for young people. According to the NHS, one in six children (aged 5-16 years old) were identified as having a probable mental disorder in 2021, increasing from one in nine in 2017. Feeling lonely and isolated has been very common for many since the start of the pandemic. Not being able to see friends and loved ones has been a big shock to the system for most of us.
On 3 February, Doctor Alex George, well-known for his appearance on Love Island in 2018, was appointed as the new Youth Mental Health Ambassador by the UK government. In 2020 he lost his brother to suicide, and since then has opened the conversation up about young people’s mental health. He is now using his platform to make people aware that it is critical we act now on the UK’s mental health crisis before it gets any worse. After only a month of him being in this role, the Government announced that £79 million was to be invested in increasing mental health support for young people.
But how many young people have to attempt to commit suicide before real change starts to happen? About 7% of children in the UK have attempted suicide by the age of 17 and almost one in four say they have self-harmed in the past year, according to a paper in the British Journal of Psychiatry. Experts also say the figures could rise as a result of the pandemic.
The UK is now taking a step in the right direction, but we are far from where we need to be. If they are serious about improving mental health services—even going to the effort to appoint a new mental health ambassador—why won’t they finally put their money where their mouth is?
Of course, the additional £79 million will do some good—the money will allow around 22,500 more children and young people to access community mental health services, and an additional 2,000 will gain access to eating disorder services. However, with one in six children now having a mental health disorder, this money simply won’t stretch far enough.
Tom Madders, Director of Campaigns at YoungMinds said: “We remain very concerned about the barriers to support that young people face right now.” While he welcomes the money, he says far more needs to be done to address “the highest prevalence rate on record” for young people with diagnosable mental health problems.
“While a heavy emphasis and significant funding has been given towards academic catch-up, schools have been given little support to deal with the huge numbers of pupils returning with new or additional mental health problems.”
We are all happy to see some sort of progress in the mental health sector, but this doesn’t excuse the lack of attention it’s received up until this point. As Madders pointed out, schools don’t have the support or resources to deal with the number of children suffering from a mental health disorder. From my experience, there wasn’t enough support for children struggling with mental health related issues. Since the pandemic started this has only gotten worse. Young people have had to adapt to online learning, give up hobbies that they love, and haven’t been able to interact with as many people as they used to.
It is evident that young peoples’ mental health is being neglected. When I first attempted to get help, I was put at the end of a very long waiting list. It made me feel like a number, like no one cared what was happening to me; there was no urgency to help. I was alone and felt lost, and I wondered to myself how many others were out there struggling like me? The government’s aim should be to make every single person with a mental health disorder feel like a priority.
Growing up in today’s world is challenging. Wanting to fit in, finding who they truly are, trying to achieve good grades, and deciding what they want to do with their future. If schools don’t have the money and resources to fund support for young people, then they are never going to get where they want to be.
I once felt failed by the system, and the aim now should be to eliminate this feeling. No child should feel like they have nowhere to turn for professional help. Children are developing eating disorders and are turning to suicidal thoughts, so the empty words from politicians exacerbate the already terrible situation.
There are nearly 300 mental health disorders out there, so £79 million isn’t going to cut it. This is going to take billions of pounds to fix, and if the government doesn’t act now then it’s going to be too late. They need to put funding into services such as Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS); they need to put money into support for schools; they need to put money into raising awareness and making information about mental health disorders easier to access.
Mental health is still a taboo topic that many of us shy away from, but it’s time to open up the conversation about it. It’s time to hold the UK government accountable for not putting their all into solving this mental health crisis. It’s time for change.
Words by Codie Bullen
This article was published as part of The Indiependent‘s May 2021 magazine edition.
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