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Introduction to adolescent mental health
Introduction to adolescent mental health

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4 Mental health policy

The UK government, along with many others around the world, accepts that childhood experiences can have a ‘lasting impact’ on mental health through to adulthood, and that more needs to be done to support children and young people who are experiencing mental health problems (CQC, 2017). The figures you looked at in the first section relating to the apparent rise of mental disorders in young people are concerning, but they only recognise children and young people who have been diagnosed with a ‘mental disorder’. The problem is wider than these statistics, however, because there are many more families who are concerned about the mental health of their young people and many young people choose not to disclose or share their experiences. They aren’t reflected in the statistics because they may never have sought help or perhaps do not want to admit their concerns. Ideally, the aim would be to intervene sufficiently early to prevent, as far as possible, mental disorders from developing.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) in the UK recognises that for too long people have had to fit in around a fragmented system rather than accessing services designed around their needs. Designing services around individual needs is commonly referred to as person-centred care. As well as becoming centred on the needs of children and young people, services need much better coordination so that it is clear what is available and how to access it. In 2018, the CQC recommended:

  • joint action across government to make children and young people’s mental health a national priority
  • a clear ‘local offer’ of the care and support available to children and young people
  • that everyone who works, volunteers or cares for children and young people should be trained to encourage good mental health and offer basic mental health support
  • inspectors should look at what schools are doing to support children and young people’s mental health (adapted from CQC 2019)

These grand aims would result in huge benefits for adolescent mental health. There is a clear element of prevention here too, in the ambition to train people to ‘encourage good mental health’ and offer basic support. Restricted availability of public resources, however, poses a significant difficulty in delivering these recommendations. Not only is it costly to train families, staff and volunteers to staff services adequately, but changing practices also requires a change in culture, which depends on good leadership. Some of the necessary leadership comes from charities, and the charity MIND is actively pushing for change.

Activity 8: MIND

Timing: Allow about 15 minutes

Visit the MIND website and pick out about three of the policy areas to explore. Scan each of the three or so pages you land on and jot down a short summary of the work MIND is doing.

MIND website [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] (Remember to open this page in a new window or tab, so you can refer back to OpenLearn and make some notes.)

Then, think about the impact of organisations such as MIND in influencing policy. How important do you think it is for an organisation like MIND to be actively engaged in putting forward a citizen’s viewpoint?

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Three examples here are:

Thinking about the role of charities such as MIND, it’s clear they act on behalf of people who need support and ensure that their needs and perspectives are kept high on the government agenda. It would be very difficult for individuals to lobby government in this way, and individual service providers may not see the whole picture of what people need.

There is considerable political momentum building for improving the mental health of young people. Much of the success will depend on everyone who has contact with young people, not least their parents and teachers, having the skills to support them appropriately.