It’s easy to feel depressed reading the statistics on young people’s wellbeing during Children’s Mental Health Week.
Mental ill-health affects 1 in 10 children and young people. School-age children are succumbing to depression, anxiety and conduct disorder in ever-greater numbers, and as the stats rise, so does the pressure on the NHS as well as on families, friends and the young people themselves who are struggling to cope. Many children are simply not getting the help they need. Earlier this year a report by the Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said that 70% of children and young people who experienced a mental health problem did not get adequate treatment – and that many of those that did faced ‘unacceptably long waits’.
There is evidence, too, of strong links between poverty and poor mental health. In 2014, the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Survey found that children in the bottom quintile [20%] of family income were three times more likely to experience severe mental health problems than those in the top quintile. With more than 4.1 million children now living in poverty in the UK, that is simply too many children being left behind.
That’s why we’re very proud to fund some ground-breaking programmes focused on improving the mental wellbeing of young people – particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Last summer we launched City to Sea, which targets vulnerable young people in rural Cornwall and inner-city London struggling with mental ill-health, disability and/or illness.
The programme takes referrals from support workers, teachers, doctors and counsellors, and through a one-to-one approach introduces young people to surfing.They work at their own pace to overcome challenges and develop a sense of pride in their achievements, in an atmosphere of support and positivity – as well as in fresh air and seawater.
City to Sea is delivered by Laureus Sport for Good and the Wave Project. The Wave Project developed the world’s first ‘surf therapy’ course, which was initially funded by the NHS as a pilot scheme. Evaluation data showed that the wellbeing of young participants rose, as did their feelings of calm, confidence and connection to others – they also grew less angry, and less anxious. Surf therapy is now a growing global movement, and in the UK young people are referred to programmes like ours by CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services).
And it’s not just surfing. CAMHS also refer young people to a music therapy project we’re funding in the north east of England. My Pockets delivers song-writing classes to disadvantaged young people in Hull and East Riding who are also suffering mental ill-health, supporting them to write, play and record songs about their lives and experiences. Ultimately, they will perform their songs for each other and their communities in an end-of-project show, the culmination of a skills and confidence-building programme that improves mental health by engaging, inspiring… and entertaining.
This emphasis on empowering young people and improving their life chances is built into Spirit’s structure. We are the legacy charity of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, whose message and purpose was to ‘Inspire A Generation’. That’s why we have a Youth Advisory Panel (YAP) of between ten and twelve 18-25-year-olds, drawn from across the UK with the aim of putting young people at the heart ofour decision-making. Our panel of passionate and informed young ambassadors make funding decisions over tens of thousands of pounds, in return for a meaningful voluntary opportunity and the chance to experience being part of our mission to ‘invest in happiness’.
Many of our ‘YAP-er’s are young people who might not otherwise step forward, or be able to afford to take on a voluntary role. All develop key skills through training and mentoring that enhance their employability and improve their life chances. And for their most recent Challenge Fund allocation, they chose to award £73,000 to help give a similar hand up to other young people. Our Creative Minds project in Wales – winner of the YAP Challenge Fund 2018 – empowers 11-to-21-year-olds to be effective drivers of social change using the arts, and their own creativity. Participants become ‘Creative Wellbeing Champions’, carrying out community youth social action projects that provide their peers with opportunities to improve their own mental health and wellbeing whilst reducing stigma in their communities.
We know that the problem of young people’s mental wellbeing is complex, growing – and urgent. We prioritise the empowerment of young people as a key objective of our work, alongside challenging and changing limiting perceptions of disability, including mental ill-health. We hope we can show, through careful evaluation of projects like City to Sea, My Pockets and Creative Minds, that the provision of imaginative and engaging programmes are part of the solution to the problem of young people’s mental distress, taking the pressure off our NHS and, most importantly of all, off our young people.
To read more about Children's Mental Health Week, click here.