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Young People and Mental Health in a Changing World

10 October 2018 | by Guest

The following article has been provided by Dr Katie Hunt, Chair of the DCP Faculty for Children, Young People and their Families.

Today is World Mental Health Day, and the focus this year is ‘young people and mental health in a changing world’.

We want to use this year’s World Mental Health Day to draw attention to two things.

Firstly, regardless of what grown-ups might think, children and young people have levels of resilience and resourcefulness - whatever their ability, identity, cultural identification, or developmental level - that would put many adults to shame. This needs to be celebrated.

The second thing we want to draw attention to is the crisis in children and young people’s mental health.

Just as the resilience and resourcefulness of young people is often amazing, what is equally amazing are the levels of distress we as a society expect children and young people (and their families) to tolerate.

There is both a crisis in services available for children and young people when they experience difficulties with their mental health and a growing understanding that the bulk of the mental health difficulties that adults experience have their onset before the age of 14.

When we ask children and young people (and their families) to tolerate levels of distress that many grown-ups would struggle to tolerate, we're sending a powerful message.

Spending on children and young people’s mental health, as a proportion of the overall mental health spend, is very low indeed, and we cannot expect to meet all the need that there is when services are constantly challenged by austerity, making it harder and harder for children and young people to access help.

Very often when young people do access the high quality mental health support that child and adolescent mental health (CAMHS) services provide, it is very late on in the development of their difficulties, and this makes intervening more challenging.

Despite the way that we approach support for children and young people there is an impressive body of evidence that tells us time and again what we, as a society, might do to prevent mental health difficulties developing in children and young people.

This is the evidence around Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and the powerful and additive effects they have on the lives of children, young people and their families, often reaching far into adulthood.

ACEs are stressful or traumatic experiences that children may experience growing up. They can include things like suffering from emotional, physical or sexual abuse, parental separation, domestic violence, parents who have mental illness, problems wth alcohol abuse, or drug use, or are in prison.

Research on ACEs tells us that exposure to adverse childhood experiences produces a diverse range of adverse effects on both physical and mental health, as well as emotional and behavioural development, in adults many years later.

The more ACEs that are experienced, the poorer the predicted outcomes are.

What we already know about ACEs has huge potential to be a game changer for services. Why would we not want to prevent mental health difficulties rather than try and run to keep with up with a level of demand we cannot meet once difficulties have developed?

Many places in the UK are starting to recognise the importance of this research and starting to change the game but we still have so far to go.

The theme of this year’s World Mental health Day is spot on, but the changing world that we need to see is the one that is able to contribute positively to the prevention of difficulties and the development of good mental health in our children and young people.

By extension, this contributes to good mental health for all and the opportunity to change all our futures.

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