Teenage angst is something most of us remember, but in Britain today, more problematically, we know there are too many young people suffering from stress, anxiety or depression. One in ten young people has some form of mental health condition and some feel they have no one to turn to.
We shouldn’t accept this in modern-day Britain. This week the Department for Education and the Department for Health are launching an ambitious green paper on how we can work together to improve children and young people’s mental health.
We know that all too often young people with a mental health problem are not able to fulfil their potential, and those problems often start at an early age. Three quarters of all mental health problems start by the age of 18 and can have a lasting impact on people’s lives. As ever, it’s the most vulnerable children who are the most at risk, with almost half of children in care having a diagnosable mental health condition.
Today’s young people have more choice, more information, more ways of communicating with each other than ever before but this can also come at a cost. As well as bringing many benefits the world of Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram has given people new ways to bully and hurt each other. In a highly connected world, it means some children and teens are feeling lonelier than ever.
We want that to change. The measures we have set out this week build on the incredible work already happening at schools and colleges around the country, where staff play a vital role in supporting their students’ wellbeing and mental health. We want this kind of excellence to become the norm, backed by improved links with medical professionals and better, faster access to expert advice when it is needed.
In our joint plan, every school and college will be able to train a designated senior lead for mental health. This training will help them to develop a ‘whole school approach’ that ties together everything from promoting good pastoral support, to getting access to specialist therapies and NHS treatments where needed.
New Mental Health Support Teams will work with groups of schools and colleges, improving the link between education and health, focusing on intervening quickly to address problems for children and young people earlier and stopping them from becoming more serious. We expect several thousand people to be recruited over the next five years to build up these new teams and we will work closely with school nurses, counsellors, social workers and other existing professionals already in place to prioritise support.
I want every young person to grow up with confidence and feeling excited about the opportunities available to them in 21st Century Britain. I want schools and colleges to be a place where aspirations and ambitions are raised sky-high, and where this is more opportunity on a young person’s doorstep.
We want Britain to be a country that works for everyone, where all our children fulfil their potential. This means tackling the burning injustice of mental health problems that hold some people back their whole lives. We need to give every young person a fair start in life and a chance to be at their best. In the end, if we succeed, it is how our country can be at its best too.
Justine Greening is the education secretary and Conservative MP for Putney