The COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on youth mental health was the focus of discussion at a Big Tent Digital event chaired by Luciana Berger, former Shadow Minister for Mental Health, on Thursday night.
We Will, a youth-led mental health charity based in Cumbria, urged attendees to take direct action in order to prevent a deluge of young people seeking help for mental health issues as they return to school in September.
“This September every teacher we have spoken to is dreading a huge spike in referrals of young people to mental health services”, one activist said.
The group is campaigning for it to be guaranteed that any young person seeking help can see a professional within four weeks, and those with urgent needs to never have to wait for more than four days.
“We have real concerns about the lack of investment in youth mental health. Young people have been waiting for as much as 18 months for support in our area.”
Apart from increased investment in youth mental health, We Will is also proposing that every school and youth organisation needs to have a dedicated Mental Health Governor.
“Do you have someone in your governance teams responsible for mental health?” they asked the attendees.
“We’re tired of waiting for other people to make a change in how youth mental health is dealt with. The one thing that will make the biggest difference is to simply listen to young people.”
Berger, whose political career has been dominated by work connected to mental health, agreed that the issue is becoming increasingly pressing.
“At the start of the pandemic we rightly focused on physical health. We know that this has come at a cost of all of our mental health because of the repercussions of lockdown.”
“It’s been particularly challenging for young people who have not been able to see friends or go to school”
“Any sort of health crisis we already had in our country before is now magnified.”
Iona Lawrence, Former Director and Founder of the Jo Cox Foundation, was also part of the conversation. She highlighted the need for community-led initiatives in order to counter the issue of loneliness in the UK.
“When Jo was campaigning to be an MP, she was knocking on lots of doors where people on the other side just wanted a conversation. She believed that we need to strengthen and connect communities from the ground up.”
“It’s only by investing in people and their relationship we can meet the very grave needs of people.”