For me, the most important thing the Government should be doing is looking after the mental health of all children and young people. Mental health affects everything we do. Young people are acutely aware that the decisions we make in the here and now will ultimately influence us throughout our lives. I don't think I'd be alone in saying that this is a pretty scary thought!
Despite the pressure of modern life, we are tomorrow's generation. We are the ones who will contribute to this country in many rich and varied ways through our personal and working lives.
In accordance with Young NCB's policy priority on mental health in schools, and as part of their wider priority, “Is School Preparing Us for Life?”
, I believe the Government needs to be dedicated to improving the availability and quality of mental health services for children and young people in schools and local communities.
Currently, there has been an increase in the number of children and young people with mental illness in schools, but services are not keeping up with needs, especially during stressful periods such as when there are high-stakes examinations. To underscore my point, in May 2014 doctors in the British Medical Journal reported concerns that too much focus on academic attainment while ignoring wellbeing and personal development can harm mental health (1)
Existing mental health services need to become more fluid and personalised in response to the preferences and needs of children and young people rather than being solely based upon static age-inappropriate frameworks.
If services are informed by children and young people who use them as opposed to just depending upon adults’ perspectives of what is needed, we can help to eradicate the sometimes condescending and age-inappropriate practices prevalent in mental health service provision. This is important because good mental health helps to ensure that children and young people are able to reach their full potential as well-rounded citizens.
Let us end the stigmatisation of mental illness and the use of harmful words and phrases like “nutcase”, “attention-seeker” and “crazy” in conversations. We should be raising the awareness that anybody can suffer from mental illness: that it is not a minority issue. For example, approximately 3 in every 100 people will suffer from depression at some time in their lives.
Furthermore, there needs to be better advertising standards for mental health services. I recently noted a poster in my locality promoting a mental health workshop for children and young people depicting someone with mental illness as a cracked egg. I find this deeply offensive. It implies inferiority and uselessness; cracked eggs are nearly always thrown away.
In summary, I would like all of you to take a moment to think about the challenges in the world today. My question to you is this: What if a young person in education suffering from mental illness today could be instrumental in solving one of the world's problems tomorrow? We cannot afford to discard the potential of young people who suffer from mental illness.
18-year-old Grace Gurbutt, member of Young NCB.