• Laura Wallis

"The NHS Long Term Plan is now out...but what do we do while we wait to feel its effects?"

There is no denying that children and young people’s mental health is the hot public health topic of the moment. Stories of long waits, under resourced services and the young people and their families who are struggling and paying the price are frequent and, as we are encouraged to talk more about our mental health, more young people are feeling able to do just that and share their own stories, adding to the conversation.

The impact of this shift in attitudes is just starting to be felt and in recent months we have seen the launch of the Government’s Green Paper on Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health Provision, pledges of greater funding and more staff for children and young people’s mental health, developments of exciting new research proposals and, of course, the NHS Long Term Plan. A lot of energy and resource is, finally and deservedly been spent on children and young people’s mental health, but how long until we see any real change? Some of the plans are exciting and ambitious, but precisely because of that, will take a number of years to roll out. So what do we do in the mean time? How do we better support the young people who are struggling with their mental health right now? How do we make changes and improvements BEFORE research is published and we start to see the systemic change promised by the long-term plan?

The answer is simple. We ask young people themselves. We equip them with the skills, knowledge and confidence to talk about the topics that matter to them in mental health and then we step back and support them to become the leaders of their own lives. Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child says that every child “who is capable of forming his or her own views [has] the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child.” Young people have a right to be heard and we, as professionals have a duty and responsibility to listen. But it goes beyond that, we also have a duty to empower children and young people to lead change. Young people are experts in their own lives and they have plenty of experience, knowledge and insights to share. Knowledge and insights that will improve access to services and treatment and propel them forward to become the services that children and young people actually need. We don’t need to wait for more money, more staff or any of the other promises laid out in the NHS long-term plan. We can start now.

By taking the time to ask young people what they think and asking them to join us as we face challenges and struggle to find solutions for ingrained problems, we can refresh our practice, create stronger policies and deliver better services. We also empower young people, increase their confidence and support them on their journeys of recovery and self-discovery.

Debating Mental Health are the leaders in equipping young people with experience of mental health support needs with the skills, knowledge and confidence they need to speak out and drive real, powerful change across the mental health sector. Naz, who has participated in previous activities with Debating Mental Health, including a London-wide debate for 60 young people at Facebook’s UKHQ and leading the ‘Children, Young People and the Now Generation’ workstream at the recent Global Ministerial Summit on Mental Health said:

"Since joining Debating Mental Health in 2017, I've managed to step out of my comfort zone and push myself to achieve goals I used to think were impossible. Debating Mental Health has helped me break out of my shell and meet amazing people, its so important that us young people have a platform to express our views on mental health."

While we wait to see the effects of newly commissioned research and the NHS Long Term Plan, why not work with us and find out what young people can do? You might be surprised and, very probably, you’ll find new solutions to some of those long-term problems too!

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