Tackling young people’s mental health has fast become a defining issue of our times – with increased and growing attention from politicians, charities, and members of the Royal Family. But media stories continue to highlight the sheer scale of the challenge ahead, described as a ‘worsening crisis’ that has reached ‘epidemic’ proportions.
At MQ, we’re focused on making sure research helps to find solutions to this crisis – so that we can get young people the help they desperately need.
But if we want to truly transform the mental health of future generations, we also need policy plans which are bold and meet the challenge – and with research at the heart of them.
Whilst mental health policy that focussed on children and young people has broadly gained ground across the UK, it’s fair to say that mental health research has not been integral to the policy agenda. The consequences of this are born out of the lack of attention to mental health research overall - from research funding (both public and government investment) to evidencing new interventions and treatments in mental health.
It’s true that, in many ways, these are unprecedented times for mental health. Governments from across the UK, all political parties and the Prime Minister have made mental health a priority. Last year, Theresa May called the devastation wrought by mental illness ‘one of the burning injustices of our time’.
Yet the reality on the ground continues to reflect little of this change. We know that long waiting times and unequal access to young people’s mental health services are putting lives at risk, and emergency services are handling more mental health cases all the time. It’s a sad reflection of where we are, that people are in crises before they get the support they need.
It’s an exceptionally challenging time for our health services, but the issue runs far deeper than that, and to ignore the role that research can play in addressing this situation is to accept a status quo that is failing people.
Our policy priorities
We know that not enough is spent on research and to ignore this fact is to do a great injustice to 1 in 4 people affected by mental illness. We want the Government and devolved nations across the UK to commit to a growth in mental health research that reflects the burden of mental illness.
Data is critical to understanding mental illness. Informatics projects targeted at young people should be established and supported to expand the use and linkage of data. Access to currently available national datasets should be accelerated by streamlining legal and ethical approvals.
Young people offer unique insights into their own experiences. Research funders and those carrying out research must incorporate a vision and commitment to meaningful involvement of young people in development, dissemination, delivery and governance of research.
Finally, we’re calling for more research that takes place in ‘real world settings’, whereby Research Funders and Commissioners identify and prioritise the development, testing and evidencing of new interventions and support for young people. Priority should be given to ‘real world settings’ and addressing social inequality.
Towards a brighter future for young people's mental health
Research brings with it the potential to not only develop more effective, targeted responses, but to do so in ways that ease the burden on the health service. At a time when mental health conditions cost the UK £105bn each year, finding effective ways to intervene far earlier with young people could have profound consequences for individuals, communities, and for society.
Prioritising mental health research could help us bridge the major gaps in our knowledge, gain greater understanding and insights into mental health and help us to prevent problems down the line. Research must be at the ‘front and centre’ of UK policy approaches to supporting young people if we are going to make progress in addressing the mental health crisis of our time.
Find out more about policy relating to young people’s mental health in our full report - Young People's Mental Health Research - Towards a Brighter Future.
Last updated: 3 August 2018