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Improving mental health support for young people

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Our new report shows that young people aren't getting the mental health support they need. Read on to find out why and to take action.

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The problem

Our report, 'Not making the grade' shows that growing numbers of young people who have experienced trauma, racism and are experiencing mental health problems, are finding themselves stuck. Secondary schools are struggling to meet the needs of young people with mental health problems.

“The schools do not have the resources to meet the needs of children with mental health problems and it took 9 months to get support via CAMHS and by this time it was too late…” - a parent

And even where they do, stigma and a lack of trust means that young people are reluctant to ask their school for help.

The report also makes recommendations for secondary schools and the UK Government to improve support for young people experiencing mental health problems.

Below are some of the key things we learnt from our research.

Young people's education is being damaged because they can't access good mental health support

  • 96% of 1271 young people surveyed across England reported that their mental health had affected their schoolwork at some point.
  • 56% of school staff identified that young people who didn't receive support self-harmed.

"It almost felt like you couldn't let anyone else know that you were seeing the school counsellor for fear of embarrassment."

Young people's mental health problems get treated as bad behaviour

  • 48% of young people told us they had been punished at school for behaviour that was caused by their mental health problems.
  • 25% of school staff said they were aware of a young person being excluded from school because of their mental health.

"Was sent to isolation for a panic attack and not allowed out…"

Racism in schools is impacting the mental health of young people

  • 55% of young people from Black and Black British backgrounds and 57% from mixed ethnic backgrounds had experienced racism at school, as had over 36% of young people from Asian or Asian British backgrounds.
  • 59% of school staff were aware of young people experiencing racism at school and 47% said it had affected the mental health of those who experienced it.
  • 70% of young people who experienced racism in school told us their experience had impacted their wellbeing.

"...At this point, I’m very, very slow to anger, which can be seen as a good thing in certain senses… I bottle it. That’s because the labels that were put on me as a Black girl if I got angry too quickly."

Academic achievement is being prioritised at the expense of wellbeing

The overwhelming message from the young people we spoke to is that academic achievement is being prioritised at the expense of wellbeing. The pressure to succeed and perform well in exams is negatively impacting young people's mental health, which in turn impacts their ability to participate in school.

"I struggled to complete all of my work and homework and was often punished for this. There was never any question around why I was repeatedly falling short and no offer of extra support."

Our recommendations

  • Provide mental health support that meets young people's needs. Everyone aged 11-25 should be able to access early mental health support, without an appointment or a referral, in their local area.
  • Tackle racism in secondary schools. There must be a legal duty for schools to report on racist incidents.
  • Make it easier for young people to get help from NHS mental health services. Everyone involved in providing NHS mental health services should work together to make it easier for young people to access mental health care.
  • Stop treating mental health problems as bad behaviour. Schools should be banned from putting young people in isolation as a punishment. All teaching staff should take action to understand the causes of young people’s behaviour.

Read the report

Our report looks into the experiences of young people in England who have had mental health problems at secondary school. We heard from over 2800 young people, parents, school staff and mental health professionals.

The solution

Right now, we are failing young people.

Unless young people are able to access the right type of support, they will not be able reach their full potential, succeed at school and create the life they want.

But we have a plan.

Young people need to be able to access early support, locally, without needing to wait or reach a threshold for treatment. That’s why, alongside our partners, we’re calling on:

  • the UK Government to urgently invest in a network of early support hubs across England as part of the #FundtheHubs campaign
  • a radical rethink into the way schools respond to young people, whose behaviour is a result of mental health problems and trauma.

There needs to be a wholesale change of approach. If this doesn’t happen, thousands more young lives will not reach their full potential and the UK Government will have to answer for the human and economic costs of inaction for years to come.

How you can help!

We need the UK Government to invest in a network of early support hubs. You can email your MP urging them to #FundtheHubs and help ensure all young people can access the right mental health support, when they need it. 

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You can also share our social media posts to spread the message and ask more people to email their MP. People power changes the world.

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If you’re a young person between the ages of 11 and 24, get involved and we'll keep you updated on ways you can shape our work in England and Wales.

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