This time last year we were working with YoungMinds Activists to plan an event in Parliament that would call on the Government to make early support for young people’s mental health a real policy priority. We wanted MPs to meet with young people, face to face, so that they can hear what it is really like waiting for support for your mental health or being told that you are not ill enough for a referral.
That was before Covid-19 transformed the world as we knew it. It forced schools to close, workplaces to adapt, people to live in isolation and vital mental health services to change how they deliver their support. As a result, of course, we had to rethink our campaigning plans entirely.
The pandemic has affected everyone, but we know that there has been a huge impact on children and young people’s mental health. We know this through our own research and the studies that are still coming out that have looked at the pandemic’s impact on young people’s lives.
That’s why we launched the Beyond Tomorrow campaign back in May, in order to call for action to reduce the long-term impact of the pandemic on young people’s mental health. We asked you to sign our petition and share our urgent call for immediate support, less academic pressure in our schools and a commitment to provide better support for young people’s mental health in the future. Over 17,000 people have joined our campaign and today we are handing the petition into the Government.
What has the campaign achieved?
Responding almost immediately to the pressure from the launch of our campaign, the Government announced a financial package to increase young people’s and families’ access to mental health support through youth organisations, charities and helplines. This was followed by a campaign by Public Health England to reach children, young people and families with guidance on supporting mental health and wellbeing – again, a direct response to our campaign demands.
We also made a number of recommendations to the Government specifically on schools, including a call for a transition period of at least one academic term during which schools can prioritise wellbeing over academic catch-up. The Government did not do everything we asked for, and we were especially disappointed not to have been able to secure a Resilience Fund to help schools respond to mental health needs arising in their classrooms. But we did make progress to ensure government action on a number of issues to reduce the academic pressure in schools, including:
- suspending Ofsted gradings for Autumn and Spring term
- suspending league tables
- publishing new guidance for schools on wellbeing including an online package of resources
- introducing an £8 million Wellbeing in Education Return fund to support schools over the coming months
The Government has also confirmed that there will be £500 million of additional funding for NHS mental health services this year, beyond the commitments already made in the NHS Long Term Plan. This has potential to have an enormous impact but, as ever, the devil is in the detail. We are now working with NHS England on how areas of the plan can be accelerated now so that more young people can get the support they need as quickly as possible.
We know that the impact of the pandemic on young people’s mental health is far from over, and we are increasingly worried about what is still to come. As the pressure facing young people continues, we need the Government to do more to ensure that the right support is available in schools and universities this year, and that local charities and youth clubs that provide life-changing services can survive in a time of economic uncertainty.
But we also need longer-term action. While we have seen some progress in recent years, there is far more to do to improve NHS mental health services and to ensure that young people can get early support in schools, local communities and from adults in their lives. With growing numbers of young people struggling with their mental health, there is absolutely no room for complacency. Working alongside our friends in the sector, YoungMinds has a clear set of actions the Government can take to increase the availability of support, which we will continue to call for.
The Government must also address the factors that put pressure on young people’s mental health in the first place. We need a new strategy that ensures a ‘young people’s wellbeing in all policies’ approach to future policy-making, and which places specific focus on addressing inequalities that can make mental health worse.
Handing in the petition today marks the beginning of a new movement for young people’s mental health. While the successes for this campaign are significant, there is so much more to do. We hope you will join us next year and continue to fight for young people’s mental health. And who knows, maybe in 2021 we will again be able to bring MPs face to face with the young people whose lives are impacted by the policies they make or support.
We have big plans to build our campaigning voice throughout 2021. You can continue to support our movement by making sure you’re signed up to our newsletter and following us on social media. That way, you will always know how you can use your voice to fight for a world where no young person feels alone with their mental health.
Author: Tom Madders, Director of Communications and Campaigns
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