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It is a somewhat startling fact that 50% of mental health problems are established before the age of 14, but little is done by ‘the system’ to ensure the effects of these problems do not carry into adulthood.
A further sad fact is that the third leading cause of death in 15 to 19 years olds is suicide (WHO). The World Health Organisation goes on further to state that ‘The consequences of not addressing adolescent mental health conditions extend to adulthood, impairing both physical and mental health and limiting opportunities to lead fulfilling lives as adults.’
During our formative years (10 to 19 years) we are more vulnerable to mental health problems as we grow and change physically and mentally. Other social factors such as poverty, violence (especially in the home), family breakdown / divorce and other adverse experiences prevent adolescents from thriving and entering adulthood free from trauma and burden.
Most mental health conditions forming in these years go undetected and are therefore carried into adulthood and inevitably into the workplace. Four out of ten sicknotes now relate to mental health issues.
According to The Centre for Mental Health sickness absence due to mental health issues cost UK business £34.9bn last year.
Picking up the signs of mental health in adolescents is not easy for the already burdened education system despite a greater presence of wellbeing programmes entering into schools and other education establishments.
In the UK it is estimated that three children in every classroom is suffering with a mental health problem (Young Minds). We also live in a country where the number of young people presenting to A&E with urgent mental health needs has tripled in the last ten years.
It is perhaps then no surprise, though clearly hugely tragic, that The Samaritans report a rise in suicide rates for those under 25 with female suicide rates having increased since by 93.8% from 2012 to 2019.
In men the rate has thankfully decreased and its lowest point since 1981. The rate though is still way too high, and according to a BBC report it is still the single biggest killer of men under 45.
This fact is one I often discuss with clients, colleagues, and business associates. Despite the awareness of the benefits of discussing and dealing with poor mental health it seems that we condition boys from a young age not to express emotion. It is still seen as a sign of weakness. This perhaps, is a reason that the construction industry has the highest rate of suicide than any other industry. Construction, despite encouraging more women into roles, is still very male orientated. Charities such as The Lighthouse and Mates in Mind formed to tackles these issues.
Men are also less likely to seek help. A UK British Medical Journal report notes that consultation rates were 32% lower in men. This especially applies to issues around mental health. When people do then self-refer to their GP, long wait times and short consultation times (10 minutes standard with your NHS GP) do not help always.
When issues are then diagnosed, referral to talking therapies takes time but is improving since the introduction of the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programmes was introduced. This aims to get people into support within 28 days of referral, though add to that a common lead time of up to three weeks to see a GP in some areas.
Whilst we might have to keep the faith that the NHS can reduce waiting times, the private sector is rapidly adapting to the demand for treatment. Of course, the cost of private therapy is way beyond the means of many people. Charities and low-cost counselling centres are available and provide important services but still charge a fee.
As guardians of future generations, parents and carers are best placed to break the conditioning described above and encourage children to talk about their feelings.
For zero cost, we can make a huge difference to the outcomes of our young people.
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