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There is a crisis in young people’s mental health and we must end the wait

Young people are being left to wait for months for mental health treatment (Alamy)

4 min read

“I ended up in hospital too many times and was often left feeling as though no help was ever going to come.”

These words were spoken by 19-year-old Nicole at a YoungMinds campaign event in parliament last week. This one sentence encapsulates a growing crisis in young people’s mental health and a broken system desperately attempting to pick up the pieces.

Her words are so devastating because, for all the statistics and the headlines we hear about young people’s mental health, they summarise the human experience at the centre of it all: Young people struggling to cope, knowing they need help with their mental health, but left to wait for months and months, while their needs escalate and they reach crisis point, visiting A&E at times of last resort.

The reasons behind the crisis are complex, but the data is stark and irrefutably concerning. NHS figures from November 2022 showed one in four young people aged 17-19 had a probable mental health condition. This has rocketed up from one in ten in 2017, just five years earlier.

At our End the Wait campaign event last month, hosted by fifteen young people, we asked MPs to step into the shoes of a young person who has been failed by the system. MPs heard complex stories of a world that is so often stacked against young people. The young people told these stories with one aim in mind: to make sure no-one else has to experience what they did.

At YoungMinds, we know things can and must get better. The solutions to so many complex problems are actually very simple, and we launched End the Wait to present these solutions to government.

Firstly, we need to see an accelerated roll out of Mental Health Support Teams. Right now, they are only in a third of schools nationwide, meaning most pupils are missing out on vital support. Secondly, we need the government to commit to a clear pathway to a four-week waiting time and to review service thresholds.

“Our mental health system is desperately trying to put out millions of little fires”

Lastly, we are calling for a network of early support hubs in every community. This will ensure there are spaces for young people to go when they first need help, stopping emerging needs escalating to crisis point and reducing pressure on the NHS. A network of early support hubs has been transformational in other countries – there’s no reason we can’t do the same.

The government had been working towards a ten-year plan for mental health, which could have been the vehicle for these changes. We enabled 14,000 young people to respond to DHSC’s Call for Evidence, whose collective message was loud and clear: more early intervention, support in schools and reduced waiting times.

However, earlier this year we learned that the plan would no longer be happening. Instead, a ‘major conditions strategy’ that covers a breadth of mental and physical health conditions will be introduced. The Minister for Mental Health Maria Caulfield reassured us that the voices of young people would be represented through this strategy when she spoke at our event, so we look forward to this being realised.

A quote from our activist, Nicole, started this piece, and I want to end with more of what she told the room at our parliament event: “Our mental health system is desperately trying to put out the millions of little fires that are burning young people’s hopes and futures. And with the lack of intervention before situations escalate, the country is on fire. We have no support we can access easily and are left to watch the fire burn, waiting on those in power to take action.”

We are still waiting for that action. We urge our friends across parliament to join us and help to End the Wait.

Tom Madders is Campaigns and Communications Director at YoungMinds.

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