Mental health is emerging as a growing public health problem in developed countries. The incidence and prevalence of mental health issues among young people is on the rise. Studies show that one in four of us will be affected by a mental or neurological disorder at some point in our lives. According to the Mental Health foundation, mental health already affects 1 in 10 children and young people, which is often a direct response to what is happening in their lives. Many of these young people have not had timely and appropriate medical and social interventions.
The NHS long-term plan identifies mental health of children and young people as a key service priority for delivery of improved care and recommends support to be accessible in schools. Many schools are already covering raising awareness on mental health. I’m currently a Year 10 student, studying in England, United Kingdom (UK), and it was through one of these initiatives on mental health at my school that I was introduced to ‘The RAP project’. These initiatives in my opinion will empower students to access resources and provide them with information on how to access support and thereby reduce the stigma often associated with mental health that can become a barrier to seeking timely support.
I decided to conduct a survey to understand the perceptions towards mental health among students and sixth-formers at my school. There were a total of 112 participants in this survey, with age ranging from 12-18 years old.
The major findings of this survey included:
- Over 89% felt Mental Health was an issue among young people.
- Over half of the participants (56%) had experienced thoughts that they would associate with a mental health issue, with peaks at 14 years (71%) and 16-18 years (61-75%).
- Majority of the young people would turn towards their friends or family for support.
- 2% of the young people would turn to no one for help.
- Majority (73%) of the participants felt that social media was a contributor to growing mental health problems among young people.
- Free text comments related to the need for better access to support services such as counselling, the need for more awareness about mental health problems and reducing stigma.
While the survey gave some useful insight into the views of the young people, the limitations of this survey included its small study cohort, a specific age group studied, and lack of representation from participants from a larger geographical area. Larger studies with longer follow up may be required to substantiate these results. However, this study still raises an important question of the need to improve mental health among young people.
The findings of this survey were selected for a poster presentation at the Great North Children’s Research Community Conference 2019 held at International Centre for life, Newcastle upon Tyne. The audiences were fascinated by the results of the survey and it generated an interesting discussion around the challenges in diagnosing and managing mental health among young people.
For me as a young person, this mental health survey exercise enhanced my understanding of mental health, as well as introduced me to the potential untoward effects of social media and its ability to transform young lives. I feel there is a need to introduce mental health awareness and education during school years and to develop robust systems for the detection of mental health problems and provide support. This might warrant greater investment in mental health, as well as legislation for companies with established social media platforms, to screen their services for content that may have a detrimental effect on young people. By using social media to our advantage to raise awareness on mental health, while mitigating risks, we can create an environment for young people to flourish.