On Thursday 10 March, we hosted our fourth children and young people Roadshow event aimed at the voluntary sector, schools and others working with children and young people. At the event, a panel of young people and representatives from Kent Healthy Schools, Mental Health First Aid, Headstart Kent, a local headteacher and a young person spoke about their personal experiences of mental health problems and the opportunities for local services to engage in joint working and share their learning to tackle stigma and discrimination.
We were privileged to have Caroline Hounsell, Director of Partnerships and Business, Mental Health First Aid England, Angela Ford, HeadStart Kent Programme Manager and Zoe Fish, Children and Young People’s Wellbeing Practitioner Specialist, Kent Healthy Schools and Jocelyn, consultant and Time to Change Young Champion who spoke on the panel at the event and kindly agreed to chat to us.
Why do you think it is important to tackle stigma and discrimination for mental health?
Jocelyn: Stigma is the first barrier to young people getting the support they need. From my own experience the more I am open and share my own personal experiences, the more others feel comfortable to open up and share their experiences too. For years I felt like what I experienced was my fault and I blamed myself for what happened – I wish I had been told from an early age that mental health problems can be scary and often can have difficult consequences but despite this to please not blame yourself. If everyone felt comfortable speaking about their experiences and to ask for help when they first felt unwell then I think we would have far more people recover and far fewer people taking their own lives.
Caroline: Stigma and discrimination is a major contributor to people suffering from mental distress. It often prevents people from accessing help and support early on. People often experience self stigma and discrimination as well as from others. If we educate people to understand the facts about mental health, people will be able to effectively help themselves and others with compassion and dignity.
Zoe: I think the case for tackling stigma and discrimination for mental health continues to grow – more and more media coverage is matched on the ground by more and more schools seeking support for students, many of whom still feel that they cannot talk openly about their mental health problems. Where children and young people are empowered to have conversations and understand more about mental health, they are also given the opportunity to understand the impact that stigma and discrimination can have on an individual.
Angela: In order to improve mental health we need to be able to speak about it openly, for this to happen the first step is to tackle stigma and discrimination for mental health. Through this process we will be able to identify those that need support around mental health, whether that be for the individual, or wider support around the family. Without tackling stigma, there will always remain a fear of disclosing thoughts and feelings and a reluctance to seek help
What role can the youth sector (including schools, youth clubs and voluntary sector organisations) play in supporting young people’s wellbeing and attainment?
Jocelyn: The youth sector is instrumental in ensuring young people are educated and supported regarding their mental health and wellbeing. Sadly the current mental health services are unable to support young people as much as they need and this huge gap has to be filled by the youth sector. The youth sector has the young people for the most time and is the only sector with the power to influence young people at this very crucial age. To ensure that young people become well-rounded, productive and emotionally aware adults that can cope with the triumphs and traumas that adult life brings, the youth sector has to make young people’s mental health a priority.
Caroline: The youth sector plays a vital role in maximising young people's wellbeing and attainment. They have the opportunity to normalise mental health and provide the empathy, knowledge and tools to enable the young people to thrive as adults. We know that if young people are mentally healthy they are more like to achieve higher academic success.
Zoe: I truly believe that we all have a part to play in raising awareness of wellbeing as part of a universal offer. We cannot expect young people to ‘achieve and attain’ their full potential if we do not give them the skills, and the resources, to look after their wellbeing. At the end of the day, a young person can have the most amazing grades, and have achieved the highest level of education, but if they have poor wellbeing, it will be difficult to sustain a quality of life that we would wish for them.
Angela: The youth sector plays an important role in young people’s wellbeing. They are able to provide messaging and promote opportunities. By working together, they can provide consistency and promote positive activities broader than what they can individually deliver. They can also work with young people in the communities who are vulnerable and need creative ways to engage them, through developing relationships which enable young people to make informed decisions and choices.
How do you think the sector can work in a more joined up way?
1. Keeping young people and their caregivers at the heart.
2. By understanding each other's work and building effective working relationships.
3. Knowledge sharing and exchanging good practice.
4. Working together on strategies and projects and having common goals.
5. Being preventative and having a focus on early intervention in mental health.
6. Providing effective supervision for helpers.
Zoe: By sharing things that have worked well, and working collaboratively to ensure that it is not ‘just’ mental health professionals who are able to support young people during difficult times, but also the people who are influential in their lives – so we need to makes sure that families, friends, youth workers, teachers and so on have access to information and resources to enable them to know that they can have conversations with young people and make a difference.
Angela: The whole sector needs to listen more to what young people and their family need and want. Furthermore, they need to communicate clearly with each other, recognise that every contact counts, and ensure that the support offered does not duplicate or conflict.
What would you like mental health provision for young people to look like in 5-10 years?
Caroline: I would like each youth sector organisation to have a mental wellbeing lead. I would like mental health to be effectively embedded across all the curriculum from reception years to university. Young people will understand about how to keep themselves and others mentally healthy and to be able to confidently know what to do if they are not. I would like to see all people working with young people confident about their understanding of mental health and the risk and protective factors. Everyone would be able to recognise the early warning signs of mental distress and be confident enough to help guide the person to get the help and support they need. All youth sectors will have mental health first aiders trained to include young people, staff, parents and governors. I would like talking therapies available in every school, college and university and mental health referral pathways to be quick, easy and effective. I would like the youth sector to be able to pride themselves on being mentally healthy communities where young people are set up to thrive for life.
Zoe: Accessible, both in terms of timely referrals and in early intervention. Having referral routes that are open to self-referral, or via a number of different touch-points rather than just via professional referral routes. Peer support being seen as a really powerful vehicle for recovery and ongoing support.
Angela: We want young people to recognise mental health is as important as looking after their physical health and for everyone around them to support this. Young people need to be able to know where to go to seek support and for it to be provided at the earliest time whilst also having a say in the support they receive, and having a recognised person that always keeps them in mind.
Jocelyn: I would love to see services be proactive rather than reactive to ensure that young people get the support when they initially need it, before it gets to crisis point with significant implications for their later life. I would like to see effective means of supporting young men and other hard to reach groups tackled effectively and with a greater understanding of the barriers that are currently stopping these people from accessing services and opening up. I think that young people’s services should have increased input from young people; only they know what works and what doesn’t in a very fast-paced, pressured and constantly changing time. Mental health problems have always existed and always will. I have no issue with that and I hope that in 5 years the rest of society won’t either.
Why does it matter to you that the youth sector focus on young people’s mental health?
Caroline: According to the Chief Medical Officer, 75% of mental health problems start before the age of 18!
Zoe: We know that for too long, young people have not been able to access the support that they have needed WHEN they have needed it. We need young people’s mental health services to be young people centred and for that to happen, the most obvious starting point is to involve partners and colleagues from the youth sector with experience of working with young people in a variety of different setting.
Angela: Without good emotional health it is very difficult for young people to progress and therefore make positive choices. With good emotional health, young people will have a strong sense of their future which will lead to economic prosperity.
What advice would you give to teachers in looking out for their pupils?
Jocelyn: I think the key is to make no expectations of what someone with a mental health problem acts like – The pupil that is really struggling could be the class clown or the person who is the A* pupil. My advice for teachers would be that it’s simple - you don’t need to be an expert as teachers have supported young people’s mental health for years without realising. It’s about creating a supportive relationship and offering a listening ear in a safe space. That’s all you need to get the conversation started and begin the path to recovery.