We must urgently invest in mental health says Mind’s president Stephen Fry
In the fifteen years following the release of my documentary, The Secret Life of a Manic Depressive, I’ve done my best to speak candidly about my own struggles with mental health – living with bipolar and navigating my way through several dark and troubling times, including a near-fatal overdose. I’ve also seen a striking number of colleagues and loved ones struggle with their mental health too. These are just some of the reasons I have been proud to support Mind as their President for the past decade.
The mental health landscape was very different back in 2011, with stigma far more pervasive, and attitudes towards those of us with a mental health diagnosis far more discriminatory. Thankfully, we’ve seen a huge increase in awareness and understanding, to the point where even elite athletes like Simone Biles, Ben Stokes and Naomi Osaka now feel able to speak openly about their mental health and take time out from their respective sports just as you would for any other illness or injury. But we are also seeing a surge in the severity and scale of mental health problems across the UK, with NHS mental health services under pressure like never before.
It has been well-reported that the pandemic has taken a huge toll on the mental health of the nation for a wide swathe of reasons – the loneliness and isolation associated with multiple lockdowns, not being able to spend time with loved ones, the loss of jobs and livelihoods as a result of economic recession. Mind’s research, however, has found that it is our young people who are among the hardest hit.
Worryingly, Mind’s 2021 survey of almost 12,000 people – most of whom had pre-existing mental health problems – found that almost one in three (32 per cent) young people self-harmed to cope during the last year: this means the young are more than twice as likely to cope by self-harming than adults with mental health problems (14 per cent). Referral and hospital admission statistics paint a grim picture too – for three quarters of last year, both emergency and urgent referrals for young people in mental health crisis were higher than the same month the previous year.
Many of us look back on our school days fondly, although I for one was not what you might call a model student. Aged 17, after being expelled from various educational establishments, I went around London on stolen credit cards buying ridiculous suits in an attempt to reinvent myself and pull myself out of my own confused despair. In hindsight my symptoms really surfaced here, but all everyone else could see was bad behaviour, delinquency, “lack of moral fibre”.
Although times have changed, young people are still not getting the support they need in secondary schools, which affects their ability and willingness to participate in any kind of education. Almost all (96 per cent) of young people surveyed by Mind recently reported that their mental health had affected their schoolwork at some point, and nearly seven in ten (68 per cent) young people reported being absent from school due to their mental health.
So, what is there to be done to better to support our young people? We know that the earlier a young person gets support for their mental health, the more effective that support will be. But right now, too many young people are struggling to access such support.
We want the UK Government to #FundtheHubs, by investing in a network of early support hubs for young people aged 11–25 across England. These hubs would provide young people with mental health support in a friendly, non-threatening, non-clinical setting when problems first emerge – before they hit crisis point. They would also be open to young people who weren’t deemed unwell enough to be eligible for support from overstretched Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).
As the UK Government makes difficult decisions as part of the upcoming Spending Review, I urge them to prioritise the mental health of children and young people, to make sure that every young person has somewhere to turn.