2017 has been a big year in mental health – from campaigns led by the Royals, to political action, to unprecedented levels of media attention. For many who’ve been working in the sector for decades, there’s a sense that this is long overdue, however it’s something to be welcomed and celebrated nonetheless. Youth mental health has been very much at the heart of this, and it’s momentum I can’t wait to take forward into the new year my in role as Youth Lead at Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England.
With so much achieved in terms of awareness raising, will 2018 be the year that we see real action around mental health accelerate? Translating awareness into action at a political level is no mean feat, and it’s something youth mental health campaigners have been working towards for many years. However, this month’s Green Paper on children and young people’s mental health and the recent enquiry on the role of education in youth mental health, are promising signs that things are moving in the right direction.
We can also look back on encouraging progress in the higher education sector, with a whole host of reports from the likes of the Higher Education Policy Institute (The Positive and Mindful University), Universities UK (StepChange), Unite Students (Student Resilience), Student Minds and the City Mental Health Alliance (Graduate Mental Wellbeing in the Workplace) putting an emphasis on issues for young adults and highlighting ways to better their wellbeing. Along with this wealth of information and insight, MHFA England’s recently launched Higher Education MHFA course is something I hope will play an important part in universities’ strategies for supporting their communities’ wellbeing in the year to come.
Whilst the wheels are turning to move from awareness to action in the policy world, MHFA England heads into its eighth year of bridging the gap with skills-based training. We’re expanding our reach into communities all over England and ensuring that adults working with young people in all kinds of settings are trained to better understand and support their wellbeing. Overall, our dedicated community of instructors has trained around 42,000 adults in Youth MHFA since its launch in 2010 – 18,000 this year alone. This represents a stark contrast to our beginnings in 2009, training around just 10,000 people a year in MHFA, and is progress I’m immensely proud of.
What this means is more key figures in young people’s lives are being equipped with the knowledge to spot the signs and symptoms of common mental health issues. It means more people having the confidence to start those all-important conversations around challenging subjects like depression and suicide. And ultimately, it means more young people are being signposted to further support at the earliest possible opportunity. This is work I believe is key to building a society where future generations are supported to be mentally healthy and where mental illness is normalised. For young people growing up today, we should be striving to instil the idea that seeking support for a mental health issue is no different to seeking support for a physical health issue.
As well as those who work with young people, engaging young people themselves is key to achieving this vision in the long term. The recent Green Paper has begun to address this challenge, pledging improved education around health and wellbeing as part of PSHE lessons. Innovation, as ever, will be key to supporting this kind of engagement. With this in mind, MHFA England is now looking into adapting an MHFA course tailored to teenagers, first developed in Australia. Extending the reach of our training beyond adults is a crucial building block of an holistic approach to mental health in our society and something we are excited to begin progressing in the coming months.
With the huge steps taken this year, and these kinds of exciting developments ahead, I feel we have reason to be optimistic. Step by step, generation by generation, we are moving closer to the culture change around mental health that so many of us are working towards. 2017 has been a year in which our voices have not just gotten louder, but are beginning to be heard and followed through on.
Here’s to a year of action ahead in 2018.