Amid the Pandemic, the larger crisis of young people’s mental health remains firmly entrenched.
The collective trauma of the coronavirus pandemic is one we are all well attuned to. The disruption to our lives, the common risk of infection and concern for our loved ones has been an experience we have all endured. It is a trauma that is difficult to go through, but easy to understand as contact with it is unavoidable.
The trauma of young people enduring mental health issues, on the other hand, is not one that necessarily binds us all. Many of us will be fortunate to have experienced childhoods mostly free from mental health issues. This can make it difficult for many of us to understand the destructive effect of childhood mental health problems. But this entrenched problem is having a truly debilitating effect on wider society.
Child mental health is one of those touchstone issues that divides society almost entirely on the grounds of wealth. Of course, mental illness is non-discriminating and can affect the wealthiest down to the poorest. However, the evidence is clear that children from low income households are 4 times more likely to experience mental health problems than those from higher-income ones. Furthermore, three in four children living in local authority care, often societies most vulnerable, have diagnosable psychiatric problems.
The material divide between rich and poor children is already well understood. The former group generally enjoys better education, better housing, better nutrition and better overall stability – the building blocks for success later in life. Now we see from statistics, that in addition to all these material disadvantages to overcome, poorer children are also more susceptible to the setback of worsening mental health. The impact is horrifying, with suicide the biggest cause of death amongst the under-35s and over 1 in 4 young people saying they have experienced suicidal thoughts in the last National Mental Health Survey.
As a society, we may not feel this crisis as acutely as we feel the ongoing pandemic, but its impact will reverberate far deeper and for far longer if we aren’t able and willing to start fixing the problem. Targeted mental health funding at those areas with the poorest children, greater availability of recreational facilities, such as sports, and programmes aimed at encouraging young people to talk about their problems are just some of the solutions we can adopt to start fixing this.
It isn’t right that those young people’s life chances, already disadvantaged by lacking the opportunities associated with wealth, are further hampered by increased mental health troubles. Not only will we be helping them get a better start in life, but there will be a major benefit to wider society too. According to the Washington Institute for Public Policy (WIPP), it’s estimated that for every £1 spent on improving young people’s access to therapy, like CBT, society sees £7 of wider benefit. We have allowed this crisis to entrench and fester for far too long. We owe it to the next generation and our future society to start pushing back the tide.