Mental Health of Children and Young Adults - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:55 pm on 16th May 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick Crossbench 12:55 pm, 16th May 2019

My Lords, I, too, am deeply grateful to my friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, for allowing us to have this important debate in which many personal experiences have been shared. I start by referring to a conversation that happened yesterday. The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, is no longer in his place, but he brought us towards understanding the pain and pressure of suicide. Yesterday afternoon I met a young man who graduated from Manchester University with a first-class degree in politics and economics. He spent the week immediately after Easter with nine others in Tenerife. They were working with an established church which every year seeks to cater for the thousands of young British men and women who go to Tenerife to have a drink-filled funfest over seven days. In the course of that week, three guys and one girl aged 17 to 20 committed suicide. They were meant to be relishing the freedom of economy and opportunity. They all had exceptional grades from school but none of them were happy enough to survive a week away.

Much has been said in this debate about the importance of families and the vital need for communities around our young people. I recently looked at two Gallup surveys. One was on global purpose and asked hundreds of thousands of people around the world, including in the UK, what they felt about the value of their lives. The other, which has just been published, is based on the world happiness report. The statistics from the Gallup survey on purpose reveal that just over 80% of people in the world, mainly adults, say they do not know what their purpose in life is. In Europe, 22% of people say they know what their life is about and why they exist. In other words, there is a severe deficit of purpose among adults. This will translate on to the next generation. When it comes to happiness, interestingly, communities and countries with the highest levels of happiness are in the south. Patagonia is the happiest place in the world. Latin American countries, Africa and parts of Asia show higher levels of happiness than North America and Europe. What is this telling us? It is telling us that people feel that the complexity of our well-heeled lives in the western, richer world is not giving us the community of well-being that allows that essence of strong families, good relationships and strong coherence that is more easily experienced in poorer communities. That raises the real question: what is wealth and what is it for?

A report was published a few months ago by the Legatum Institute: The Maker Generation: Post-Millennials and the Future they are Fashioning. The noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, is chief executive of the Legatum Institute. The report refers to the good news and, as the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, has just indicated, there is good news. There has been a 71% fall in the number of young people sentenced for criminal offences in the past decade; teenage pregnancies are down; the use of drugs among 11 to 15 year-olds has halved in the past decade; and underage drinking is declining. That is the good news. However, Legatum says:

“Britain has developed an adolescent mental health crisis”.

All the statistics that we have heard about and referred to clearly indicate that that is the reality. Its report is based entirely on government analysis and says:

“The proportion of children living in lone parent families has tripled, to 25%. A recent study found that only just over 50% of 16 year olds are living with both their biological parents. The change in family life, and for some the absence of a father in particular, means that many new parents have not had the role models previous generations relied upon to teach and guide them”.

It goes on to talk about the absence of cohesiveness in neighbourhoods, which drives severe well-being and mental health pressures in addition to the many other factors that have been referred to in the absence of services.

Therefore, we live in a more conflict-based society, and in the last week ITV has been coming to terms with what that means. The complexity of society brings huge pressures. Our communities are less secure, relationships and long-term commitments are less coherent, and our sense of endless risk divides people. Excessive over-concern about risk separates communities, but that is not the case in the happiest nations in the world. We need a review of our risk reality, and we also need to look at a different form of citizenship that encourages active community, which brings well-being.