Why supporting the mental health of our Young People is more important now than ever

As we batten down the hatches and ‘lockdown’ over the next few weeks, there is no doubt that every one of us will face significant challenges to our mental health. How we deal with this depends on multiple factors; those of ‘ourselves’ - our genetics, our lifestyles and past trauma which may or may have not occurred, and those of our ‘environment’ - where we are, who we are with and supported by and what we are doing.

Although, thankfully, rarely the sick with coronavirus, it is our young people who are suffering most with maintaining good mental health. The jar of a second lockdown will be another ‘delete all’ on the usual and normal meandering teenage days. The end to ‘hanging out’ with friends, exploring, risk taking and covert fun, often not ‘doing’ much, that can shape the person they become and the years ahead.

During the first lockdown we heard that 80% of young people felt that the coronavirus pandemic had made their mental health worse. 87% said they felt isolated and lonely. And yet access remains a problem both due to the stigma of mental health problems and lack of appropriate resource. In fact, 31% of those previously receiving mental health support were unable to access it during the pandemic (Young Minds 2020).

Young people mental health covid
A recent report by Unicef illustrated the voices of just over 8000 young people aged 13 – 29 years old in 9 countries. Twenty seven percent of females admitted to feeling anxious and 15% depressed. Adding to these stark figures and clearly feeding in to the poor mental health vicious cycle, 1 in 2 young people feel less motivated to do activities they usually enjoy and 36% less motivated to do regular chores.

We are seeing all aspects of mental health issues worsening. Not only have our admissions to the ward of patients with self-harm and overdoses increased, but our local Westminster CAMHs Eating Disorder service is reporting a 130% increase in referral rates.

Latest suicide rates don’t necessarily reflect the impact of the pandemic but with the knowledge that suicide in females aged 10-24 years old has increased by 94% since 2012, we need to intervene.

Whether we are professionals with patients who are young people or parents of teenagers, the majority of us have some regular contact with this age group. At this time more than ever, it is our responsibility to be inquisitive and ask, and then to find ways to support potentially vulnerable mental health and empower young people to access help.

We have put together a page called Young People at Imperial with guidance on how to approach young people and enquire about their general wellbeing (HEEADSSS assessment) and resources you can offer for mental health support as well as general well-being.

So please BE INQUISITIVE – ask the questions and go one step towards improving the mental health and wellbeing of our young people during difficult times.