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Youth Mental Health Day 2023 #BeBrave

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Alex Penfold on Youth Mental Health Day 2023: Insights from a Mental Health Nurse and Expert Witness

In the UK, we face an ever-growing mental health crisis in children and adolescents. It is estimated that 1 in 6, 7–16-year-olds have a diagnosable mental health disorder, such as depression, anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder. This statistic is an alarming increase from 1 in 10, which was estimated in 2017. What is even more alarming is that only 34% of these children will be accepted into an NHS specialist mental health service. So, as the mental health of young people declines rapidly, their continues to be a lack of support available for when it’s needed. Even if a referral is accepted into a specialist mental health service, they will be likely to face a lengthy wait before they will have an assessment. This means that young people and their families are left to try to deal with their difficulties alone.  
There are so many ways in which the current society we live in is damaging the mental health of children. Academic pressure, peer pressure, cyberbullying, social media and, of course, the darker parts of the internet which can fill the vulnerable mind of a child with harmful content if stumbled across via apps like TikTok or Snapchat. Additionally, political conflict, the war in Ukraine and the COVID pandemic has given children and young people a lot to be anxious about.  
So, what’s the solution to this crisis? Early intervention at the first signs of mental health struggles is one part of the solution. To increase timely access to mental health support, the NHS 5-Year Forward Plan aims to invest more money into schools and colleges to be able to provide mental health support without needing to see a GP. Having worked in children’s mental health services, I have seen more resources become available for young people within the education sector and primary care services, but there is a long way to go.  
There are steps that we can all take to help children better understand their mental health, and organisations such as Stem4 are taking the lead in raising awareness of the importance of early intervention for better outcomes. For Youth Mental Health Day 2023, Stem4 are using #BeBrave to encourage everyone to face fears and do something that requires courage, whether that is doing something that requires confidence or doing something new, no matter what the outcome may be. By doing so, we can teach young people that they can find the resilience and courage needed to achieve their ambitions and goals. Even when we, as adults, feel the current societal pressures and uncertainty we can all #BeBrave and act as role models by doing something that requires courage.  
There are other steps we can take, for instance:  
* We can try to open a line of communication with children or young people in our lives about emotions so that they know they can talk to someone and not have to suffer alone. 
* Encourage children and young people in our lives to try to strike a healthy balance between academic life and self-care.  
* Learn about the risks of social media by looking at the website YoungMinds.org.uk  
* Access resources online from organisations, such as Stem4, if we need more guidance on how to help a child or young person that we know is suffering from a mental health issue.  
* We can try to look after our own mental health, know when to ask for help and practice self-care, so that we can set an example to children and young people.

#BeBrave #YMHD

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NHS Long Term Plan: Children and young people's mental health services (2019) https://www.longtermplan.nhs.uk/online-version/chapter-3-further-progress-on-care-quality-and-outcomes/a-strong-start-in-life-for-children-and-young-people/children-and-young-peoples-mental-health-services/#:~:text=3.23.,each%20year%20by%202020%2F21.
Stem 4- Supporting Teenage Mental Health https://stem4.org.uk 
YoungMinds https://www.youngminds.org.uk/about-us/media-centre/mental-health-statistics/