Mental Health Care for Young People – An Intractable Problem?

Mental health as an issue is one of the more intractable problems of our age. We know that a very high percentage of people will suffer some form of mental health problem sometime in their lives.

It is a very difficult area of work. It is difficult because it is a very private and individual matter. People don’t walk around the streets with a label on their heads saying, “I have mental health problems” People’s experience of mental health is also individual. And it is difficult work because there is no simple ‘cure’.

People are often reluctant to come forward and seek help because it is a difficult thing to admit to and yet it affects all aspects of our lives. Many people, for instance, leave social work because they are ‘burnt out’ as a result of the stress of work, and in some cases because of poor supervision and support. Too often organisational culture deters people from seeking help until it is too late, and yet if social care is to function it is dependent on one thing, which is people.

In a wider societal view of the problem there is also a cultural element, in that many people see an admission of problems as a sign of weakness or failure. This refusal, in part, may be down to a worry of what people may think and how will they respond. People also don’t want to be pitied and certainly only want help when they want it.

The old notion that all people have to do is pull themselves together is also still apparent. It is this very individual nature of mental health, however, that makes it such an intractable problem. I also feel that people do not want to be labelled, since they fear that the label will be with them for the rest of their life.

Young People and Mental Health Problems

It has only been in recent years that people have begun to recognise that children and young people also suffer from mental health problems such as depression. For instance, in 2006 one in six calls (1,009) to ChildLine concerning mental health came from girls who talked about suicide, and more than 6,000 children and young people called about mental health problem.1

This then raises the question what are mental health issues. In this survey it included depression, eating disorders, family troubles, bullying, living with someone who has a mental illness and physical and sexual abuse.

In looking at this area we can see that the term mental health covers a broad spectrum of health issues, which may have been triggered by an event. For instance, when I worked in the child protection arena, the emotional and psychological problems people experienced came to dominate my work, because underpinning all abuse is an emotional element which at times can be both the most significant and intractable issue.

The Mental Health Foundation in a recently published report have shown that there is a lack of consistency across the country in child and adolescent mental health services, and the artificial age cut off between child and adult is causing problems, failing to provide sufficient help for people who are in ‘transition’. Despite these concerns the report identifies some very innovative and good work going on in the voluntary and community sector.2

1 ChildLine research reveals the worrying state
of young people’s mental health
(accessed 21/9/2007)

2 Mental Health Foundation (2007) ‘Listen up! Person-centred approaches to help young people
experiencing mental health and emotional problems’ (accessed 21/9/2007).
See also: O’Hara, M. (2007) ‘Vulnerable youngsters deserve better care’ Guardian (12/9/2007),,2166783,00.html (accessed 21/9/2007)

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