Alistair Burt: We need to talk about mental health

MORE than half of mental health problems start by age 14, but a new poll has found that 54 per cent of parents in Yorkshire said that they hadn’t spoken to their children about the issue of mental health because it is not something they feel they need to discuss.

That is why I am proud to support Time to Change and Young Minds in the latest phase of their awareness raising campaign, with a greater focus on reducing stigma at a younger age, 
which we hope will improve understanding and lessen the likelihood of discrimination.

There has never been a greater impetus to start talking earlier. This campaign is the largest of its kind, funded by the Department of Health and part of the wider project to transform young people’s mental health services.

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Young people have said that being judged unfairly was a primary reason for not feeling able to talk about their struggles with mental health.

That’s why the theme of “no judgement” is so important. If they’re distressed and speak up, we want them to receive only support and understanding, not ridicule.

Likewise, I would urge everyone to watch both short films on the Time to Change site (both take less than three minutes to view) and find the confidence to begin conversations with their families.

Honesty and openness on both sides go a long way. All parents recognise just how difficult it can be discussing mental health issues with teenagers.

Stigma, misconceptions and denial can take hold early in life leading to intractable and destructive behaviour in adulthood.

So yes – talking about mental health can be hard for young people, teachers, parents and carers, but often it’s a vital first step towards greater understanding.

I have heard young people say being on the receiving end of stigma can sometimes feel as bad as the mental illness itself.

The sooner young people, parents, educators and everyone who works 
with young people feel more confident in opening up about this issue; the sooner problems can be shared and resolved.

Back in 2011, we launched “No health without mental health”, a cross-government strategy which focused on recovery, reducing stigma and eliminating discrimination.

We have also provided investment in Increasing Access to Psychological Services (IAPT), an approach which has seen talking therapies help many more people into recovery.

Most recently, we have committed to investing £1.4bn over five years into improving children and young people’s mental health – £143m has already been spent this year.

Most of this funding has gone to local areas to support their efforts to transform mental health services for young people.

Investment is also going into improving support services for those struggling with eating disorders.

But it’s not just about the money – and it never should be. Simply doing more of the same is not an option.

Unless we all revolutionise our approach, opportunities to build resilience, promote good mental health and intervene early will continue to be missed.

That is why we have asked every local area to submit plans to better respond to what children and young people want and need to support their health and wellbeing.

Funding is of course a part of this, but it’s crucial for everyone to know this is just the beginning of making the changes needed.

We need to change the way society as a whole views mental illness – there’s no point improving quality and access to services if teenagers and their parents feel unable to seek help because of fear and stigma.

That’s why the work led by Time to Change, with collaboration from Young Minds, is so important to our national mission to improve understanding and access to services.

Alistair Burt MP is the Minister of State in the Department of Health and has overall responsibility for mental health.