What’s behind the current mental health crisis?
Cast your mind back, if you can, to the pre-pandemic world of late 2019. Educators, health professionals, social workers and charities were reporting a burgeoning mental health crisis amongst young people. Contributing factors included less meaningful human connection due to social media, increased exam pressure and insufficient statutory support for those impacted.
Fast forward 18 months, and many more ingredients have been added to that unfortunate recipe – ingredients which erode young people’s wellbeing and worsen mental health at an already challenging stage of life. Although the measures required to tackle the virus affected us all, young people have been disproportionately affected. On top of the shock, bereavement and loss common to all ages, they experienced isolation, loss of support networks, changes to education, uncertainty around exams, fewer opportunities and activities, worsening job prospects and financial instability. Not to mention being at greater risk of violence and abuse. For many this will have been on top of already challenging lives or pre-existing mental health issues. And the impact is worse for young people living in poverty.
COVID has shone a light on our failure to ensure we have a systematic approach of early intervention as well as specialist support for those in need, and has created significant further scale of need on top of circumstances that were already at crisis pre-Covid. Almost two thirds of those that required specialist support were unable to access this through the NHS with many young people simply told they were not ill enough to qualify for support.Young Minds Trust annual report 2021
The data speaks for itself. The Children’s Commissioner reports a 50% increase in significant mental health conditions amongst children and young people. NHS Prevalence data has shown a 48% increase in diagnosable mental health need amongst 5-19 year olds. Analysis from the Centre for Mental Health has shown that 1.5 million children and young people will need mental health support as a direct result of the pandemic over the next three to five years.
Young people, under age 25, represent almost a third of London’s population. It’s vital we act now to limit the long-term impact of this difficult period.
How can we help?
If COVID taught us anything, it’s the incredible impact of donors coming together to tackle a crisis. That’s why we’re launching the Youth Futures Fund. By contributing to the fund, donors can support community organisations which specialise in young people’s mental health. With statutory services so stretched, London’s small community organisations have a pivotal role to play in picking up young people who fall through the gaps.
Powered by citizen action (and volunteers with lived experience of the issues they seek to address) community organisations do the extraordinary every day. And they make a small amount of money go a very long way. They are particularly good at reaching young people who might not engage with other services. By building trust and offering support in places where young people feel comfortable – away from formal settings – they provide targeted, immediate and flexible support.
One such organisation is Haringey-based Open Door, a charity dedicated to improving the mental health and emotional wellbeing of young people in their transition from childhood to adulthood. Open Door has two bases which can be accessed by self-referral: the original in Crouch End and a second in Tottenham which opened in 2013. They also work in secondary schools and online. As well as assessment and a range of specialist, evidence-based interventions such as counselling, psychotherapy, CBT and mindfulness, they offer expert support for parents and carers parenting teenagers and young adults.
Over the past forty-five years young people have turned to Open Door with a range of concerns including depression, anxiety, self-harm, sexual abuse and exploitation, bullying and violence, drug and alcohol misuse and, more recently, problematic internet use and gender identity issues. Last year alone Open Door supported 700 young people and parents, and delivered over 7,000 appointments.
I felt at ease and safe. Every week I left feeling lighter, like I understood myself a bit better. I feel like I could say I was worried about things that felt dark or unusual to say out loud which were taken seriously and understood in a way I never thought was possible. It’s been really good and I’ve taken so much from all this.18-year-old service user
As an area with significant need and deprivation, Tottenham has been particularly impacted by Covid-19, both in health terms given the large BAME community, and economically. “Young people contemplating their future options of education, training and work against this backdrop are experiencing a sense of hopelessness and anxiety about the future. We are seeing a big increase in suicidal thinking and self-harm, eating disorders, anxiety and of course, isolation” says Julia Britton, Director and Child & Adolescent Psychotherapist at Open Door. “Demand for services is at an all-time high – up 75% on the same time last year. We moved to remote working at the start of the first lockdown, without any interruption to the clinical service. Therapy services were offered by zoom, phone and text. From June 2020 we began seeing some patients face-to-face – primarily those unable to make use of remote work due to lack of privacy, digital access, clinical risk and the need to be able to disclose abuse and other safeguarding issues in a safe space. Young people with communication difficulties including autism were also some of the first the return to face-to-face therapy.”
Research conducted by Open Door during the first lockdown showed a strong preference amongst staff and service users for in-person therapy. As a result, they expanded the clinical service in October 2020 to meet increased demand and reduce waiting times; in 2020-21 they delivered their highest ever level of service, but there is still much to be done. Julia Britton concludes, “The continued impact of the pandemic has meant that we are struggling to meet the growing demand within existing resources. There is emerging consensus that we are facing a growing crisis in child and adolescent mental ill health and we are working hard to secure long term funding from both statutory and non-statutory sources.”
If you would like to find out more about the Youth Futures Fund and how you can contribute, please contact Laura at firstname.lastname@example.org.