Mental health and young people: how early support makes sense

11 May 2015

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, an opportunity to openly discuss mental health, what it is, what it means, and how we can support people who are experiencing poor mental health. Plymouth and District

If more young people could access the support they need to experience better mental health, would it increase the likelihood of them having positive and meaningful life experiences both in childhood and as adults?

In this article, Olivia Craig, Operations Manager for Plymouth & District Mind, a local mental health charity who have been supporting the community on their road to recovery for over 30 years, discusses what they think are the most important things to focus on to support young people’s mental health.

What does ‘Mental Health Awareness Week’ mean for most of the young people in our community who are suffering from emotional and mental distress? Although it’s a great chance to raise awareness of mental health, challenge old prejudices and start a conversation about what is needed, we know only too well that mental health services in our community can still struggle to reach our adults, let alone our young people.

In August 2014, the then Minister for Care and Support, outlined how Mental Health services for young people in England are "stuck in the dark ages" 1. This is not surprising when you consider that Child and Adolescent Mental Health (CAMH) receives only 6% of the mental health spend in England yet needs to support 20% of the population2.

Statistics regarding young people’s mental health and wellbeing makes sobering reading:

  • 1 in 10 children and young people aged 5 - 16 suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder - around three children in every class.
  • There has been a large increase in the number of young people being admitted to hospital due to self-harm. Increasing over 68% in the last 10 years.
  • Nearly 80,000 children and young people suffer from severe depression.
  • 95% of imprisoned young offenders have a mental health disorder and many of them are struggling with more than one.
  • The number of young people aged 15-16 diagnosed with depression nearly doubled between the 1980s and 2000.

Statistics show that amongst adults with diagnosed mental health problems, more than half were diagnosed during childhood, and of those diagnosed around half didn’t receive the treatment they needed3. This resonates deeply with staff at Plymouth Mind – over 70% of the adults we work with assert that if they had received support for their mental health distress as young people, they would have had more positive and meaningful life experiences.

It’s not difficult to predict that without adequate prevention and early intervention services, many of our young people end up in secondary and tertiary mental health services when their problems escalate. There is also recognised correlation between deprivation and poor mental health4. The Adult Mental Health Needs Assessment for Plymouth (2012) reinforced findings that those suffering with mental health issues are associated with multiple negative personal and social impacts (such as unemployment, deprivation and social exclusion5). This is worrying for our local community.

Plymouth is ranked in the bottom 20% of the most deprived districts in England. In 2014 alone, over 3,500 young people were diagnosed as suffering with a mental health issue in the city. Compared to both regional and national statistics, Plymouth has a greater proportion of children living in deprivation, with nearly one in four of 0-15 years defined as deprived by the Deprivation Affecting Children Index. Lifetime outcomes for young people suffering with a mental health issue are shown to be poor – a report by Time to Change (2014) highlighted that 80% of young people in the South West of England with mental health issues are missing out on education. The report also draws links between young people with mental health issues finding it harder to make and keep friends, and that they are more likely to engage in risk taking behaviours6.

At Plymouth & District Mind we are working hard to close the gap for our young people, with a focus on building resilience from an early age. We are currently running a pilot resilience project with Year 9 students in a local school with feedback being incredibly positive. If we can teach our young people to be mentally healthy with a well-developed sense of resilience, then the knock-on effect on our adult mental health services would be astonishing - truly astonishing.  After all, as Frederick Douglass so poignantly described it "It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men."

Further Reading

Research in Practice Tailored Support

Our tailored support workshop Promoting emotional resilience in social work teams (for Team Managers), introduces the key components of emotional resilience and identifies the key factors that can be used to promote well-being and model resilience in the workplace. It provides the opportunity for participants to practice using a range of tools that can support emotional resilience in their staff. If you’d like to find out more about this workshop please contact jessica.broome@rip.org.uk.   

Research in Practice resources

Evidence Scope: That Difficult Age: Developing a more effective response to risks in adolescence 

That Difficult Age






Frontline Briefing: Understanding adolescence (Briefing) Understanding Adolescence


Promoting Resilience


Supporting emotional resilience



1 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-28851443

2 http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/aug/14/mental-health-funding-leaves-young-people-abandoned

3 Kim-Cohen, J., Caspi, A., Moffitt, TE., et al (2003): Prior juvenile diagnoses in adults with mental disorder. Archives of general psychiatry, Vol 60, pp.709-717.



6 http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/news/students-missing-out-education-because-mental-illness




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