Young and healthy? Engaging young people with mental health services

Mental health is now making the headlines more than ever before.

Thanks to years of political lobbying and activism, it is finally making its way to the forefront of the national health agenda.

This can only be a good thing. Mental health is not only ‘mental’, but has a significant impact on other health issues. For example, unemployed people are much more likely to be affected by depression/anxiety and to resort to coping strategies such as nicotine, alcohol, and other addictive substances. This is a real public health crisis that needs to be met with a comprehensive response.

While they might not suffer the same sort of physical problems older demographics face, young people are disproportionately affected by mental health issues, yet have less national services available to them than before. 74 out of 96 NHS Clinical Commissioning groups have frozen or cut their child and adolescent mental health service (CAMHS) budgets between 2013/14 and 2014/15. Furthermore, only one quarter of those with emotional disorders surveyed in the same research were referred to mental health services.

Meanwhile, 20% of students consider themselves to have a mental health problem. This varies with university: a survey by The Tab found an astonishing 46% of Cambridge students are depressed. Mental health problems are also much more likely to affect the unemployed. Overall, 1 in 10 young people have a mental health diagnosis, with countless more undiagnosed.  

With services under massive financial strain, it’s now more important than ever to make young people aware of mental health services. Many are simply not aware that there are services (both public and charitable) available to them to help. This needs to change.

studyMental health support and social media

In light of this crisis, many mental health charities have sought to make themselves more accessible and prolific on different social media sites, which many young people feel more comfortable communicating through. Recent research conducted by YoungMinds and Cello showed, for instance, that 73% of young people relied on TV, radio, social networks and websites to get information about self-harm. This demonstrates that while the message to young people about talking to others about mental health is transmitting loud and clear, many young people find it easier to seek help online. This is reflected in how young people use blogging sites such as Tumblr to share their experiences of mental health problems and establish support networks with one another.

Mental health charities have done a good job of this so far. MIND, for example, operate a website, a Facebook page, and a Twitter feed in order to publicise the support services they offer over webchat and telephone. They can even be contacted through the comments sections on their posts. By operating a comprehensive social media presence, MIND are effectively opening up support services to young people that they might not otherwise have had access to in the face of public budgetary strains.

There’s obviously room for improvement though. While the NHS had made some progress in publicising their mental health services, they are lagging behind the big mental health charities – pushing the burden into their hands. Social media is a fantastic tool for improving access and awareness of mental health services – but without public backing, there are still going to be many people out there suffering.