Eighteen is known as an exciting age. It is an age synonymous with unprecedented freedom, when the phrases ‘the world is your oyster’ and ‘what’s next is up to you’ are never far from earshot. While some eighteen-year olds would agree with this as they look forward to going on to further education, into employment or travelling, others hold a different view. No longer surrounded with the network and structure of school and family life, they see a daunting period ahead – one filled with uncertainty.
This Mental Health Awareness Week I have been struck by the range of debates and conversations taking place. The All-Party Parliamentary Health Group event on Wednesday highlighted the strides that have been made in growing policy focus and tackling stigma surrounding mental health in recent years, but also the insurmountable challenges that remain – particularly regarding funding and political ambition. In no area is this more prevalent than children’s mental health services.
The pressure on Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) is rightly receiving due attention. The deficiencies of the green paper Transforming children and young people’s mental health provision have been well documented, with many feeling it lacks ambition to drive forward the imperative shift to an early intervention model. This Mental Health Awareness Week provides a valuable opportunity to campaign for change; improving CAMHS must be a priority, with recent data revealing half of all cases of adult mental illness start by the age of fourteen.
This week, however, I would like to raise awareness of the challenges confronting my generation – to bring to the foreground the mental stress and service deficiencies facing 18-25-year olds today. Indeed, when young people leave school, whether they go on to university, employment or elsewhere, they face a difficult transition; the pressure to cope with the demands of adult life, alongside high expectations, can cause great mental stress. The transition to adulthood is rarely seamless, and it is a time when some young people need more support than ever before.
It has become clear that placing boundaries on childhood, with a cut-off age of 18, comes with great shortfalls. To acknowledge this, policymakers should revisit the recommendation in Future In Mind (2015) to extend CAMHS to young people up to 25 years of age. By eliminating this ‘cliff edge’ of care, providers have the flexibility they need to have long-term impact by ensuring vulnerable young people are not left to cope with new demands and expectations on their own.
Sadly, even with this extension, high thresholds for accessing treatment would likely remain, leaving many 18-25-year olds with poor mental health without support. Alongside extending CAMHS, there is thus merit in considering other ways young people who have not needed support or have not met the requirements to receive specialist treatment previously can reach out and receive the help they need.
To focus on one means, many of my peers have turned to mental health charities. Many representatives from these organisations have noted an increase in clients between the ages of 18-25 in recent years, explaining these young people have either been unable to access NHS services or have they had their support withdrawn. But, mental health charities are under great pressure, with many staff volunteering to meet demand. In addressing this, policymakers must look to build relationships between statutory and voluntary services, ensuring they can be joined up and subsequently improved.
We cannot, however, simply place greater responsibility and pressure on voluntary services to help 18-25-year olds and, sadly, the extension of CAMHS services would take time to introduce – even with the political will and ambition. There is great potential for new initiatives in universities, workplaces and other forums to reach young people and raise awareness. While I could have addressed numerous topics this week, ranging from skills shortages in schools to inadequate mental health services for the under 5s, this blog calls for further attention to the mental health of 18-25-year olds. It is imperative we extend CAMHS services and undertake new initiatives to provide support for those undertaking the difficult transition to adult life. Simply, in progressing conversations on children’s mental health, we need to ensure vulnerable young adults are not left aside.