Young people struggling with ther mental health deserve our help - Alison Johnstone

This week, thousands of secondary school pupils across the country will be returning to school full-time, while the rest of their peers are set to follow later in the month. After what has been a difficult and distressing start to the year, I know that many will be looking forward to their first day back with excitement, as they get back into the classroom and see their friends and teachers once again. Sadly, I also know that others may struggle. The pandemic has undoubtedly taken a toll on young people’s mental health as they have had to get to grips with home learning while missing out on the important socialisation that takes place at school.

Young people will be relieved to return to school - but some will be struggling with menta health issues
Young people will be relieved to return to school - but some will be struggling with menta health issues

We don’t yet know the full mental health impact of the pandemic, but it is clear that our already under-resourced and over-stretched mental health services require more support to meet this challenge. Waiting time figures for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services in NHS Lothian show that referrals are on the rise and that only two-thirds of young people are being seen within the 18-week target. As more of our NHS remobilises, this number will likely only increase, and it will take considerable investment to ensure mental health services do not collapse under the strain. The Scottish Greens recognise this and will allocate 10% of frontline health spend to mental health by 2026, providing an additional £235m funding a year. We also believe that CAMHS needs dedicated support and will invest an additional £161m by 2026.

No one should be turned away when they seek mental health support but too many young people remain unable to access the help they need. The same NHS Lothian figures show that there were 357 rejected referrals to CAMHS between October and December last year. Not everyone will need specialist treatment, but we have to make sure that help is available in the community when people are struggling. Alongside well-funded specialist services, we need to make mental health support available in our schools, GP surgeries and youth work services so young people always have someone to turn to. We need to provide support and training for those working with young people too.

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Mental health is spoken about more openly now than in the past and this increased awareness has led to decreased stigma, but there is more work to be done. People with mental health problems are still too often misunderstood and stigmatised. Initiating a discussion about your mental health can be scary so we need to make it as easy as possible for young people to have those conversations. That’s why the Scottish Greens have been working hard to make sure personal and social education in schools has a greater focus on mental health. Educating young people about mental health will make them more aware of their own wellbeing and equip them with the language to describe how they are feeling. We also need to embed support in the services they use every day. To some, approaching a school counsellor may seem less intimidating than making a GP appointment. We need a ‘no wrong door’ approach so young people can seek the help that works best for them.

It’s an understatement to say that our young people have had a rough year. They will need support to recover. Let’s make sure help is there when they ask for it.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Alison Johnstone is the lead Green candidate for Lothan region