A recent survey of more than 1,600 school and college students across Hampshire has revealed that almost a third of youngsters identify as someone with a mental health condition, with 38 per cent also confirming they had experienced low mental health in the past.
The survey of 10-19 year olds from across 100 different Hampshire schools and colleges was commissioned as part of a joint project between local NHS Trust, Southern Health, and youth-led social enterprise ‘Unloc’ (which specialises in linking organisations with young audiences).
The results of the survey - which also showed that only 1 in 3 young people (35%) feel comfortable talking about their mental health with others – will help to inform a series of four stand-alone ‘summit’ events held this spring, each over a full school-day and for up to 50 students from each local area.
Dr Nick Broughton, chief executive of Southern Health, explained: “The purpose of this project, which has been funded by our Trust charity ‘brighterway’, is to engage with young people in a way we haven’t done before. We know mental health is a huge issue for children today - a recent ‘Action for Children’ national report found 1 in 3 young people experience mental health problems - and our local survey supports this figure and makes for sobering reading.
“Using our local survey as a catalyst for change, we want to have meaningful conversations with young people about their mental health, gain insights, offer more tailored support and better understand how we should involve young people on these issues in ways that are relevant to them.
“The summits will also give us a great opportunity to talk to young people about NHS careers, placements and volunteering opportunities at a time when healthcare recruitment is a growing national issue.”
The survey results revealed that nearly a quarter (23%) of local youngsters struggle to feel positive most of the time but that fewer than 4 in 10 young respondents thought their school or college had adequate mental health services. 42 per cent said they would feel embarrassed to talk to their teacher about their mental health. That said, the majority of children said they’d find talking to other young people with similar problems helpful and only 19 per cent said they’d felt ‘judged’ for their mental health, a positive sign that mental health stigma within this age group is lower than for previous generations.
Southern Health, other NHS trusts and a wide range of charities such as ChildLine and Young Minds offer a range of mental health services and support to young people. Within Southern Health, these include:
- the self-referral talking therapy service ‘italk’ for those aged over 16;
- ‘ChatHealth’, a confidential text messaging service for 11-19 year-olds;
- early intervention in psychosis services for youngsters over the age of 14;
- psychiatric inpatient care (incl. eating disorder treatment) for 12-18 year-olds.
This said, less than two thirds of respondents would know who to contact if they were feeling low and 57 per cent were unaware of the variety of services available to help them, so the project also aims to educate young people about how they can seek help whilst identifying the gaps in care that need to be filled.
Hayden Taylor, managing director of Unloc, commented: “We’re really excited to be working with Southern Health to help provide young people with an opportunity to share ideas and suggestions for local healthcare improvement. We’re also keen for young people to gain more knowledge and understanding of services available to them so they know where to go to seek help when they need it.”
Josh Jones (20) who attends Portsmouth College, added: “I feel like mental health issues mainly start in school, kids go through so much and can have traumatic experiences both in and out of school life. It would have really helped me if people spoke about mental health more casually, if people were more open about it. It was especially hard being a boy and having to open up, I feel like it’s seen as a sign of weakness. Also, whilst I had a certain member of staff I felt I could talk to, I didn't really know what services were available to me. It would have been great if services had been signposted to me, or if there was a certain space within school where I could have gone to seek help when I needed it. One way of coping which helped me was to find something I enjoyed, a hobby, and to just get involved and do it! I really hope the results from this survey can help develop the mental health services currently available to students.”
Ultimately, the aims of the collaboration are to gain a better understanding of young people’s experiences of mental health in Hampshire, gathering evidence to use in future service design. Dr Nick Broughton concluded: “We want to improve our relationships with local schools and colleges, using the youth summits to create a network of engaged young people we can work with on an ongoing basis.”