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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:21 pm on 16th May 2019.

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Photo of Lord Haskel Lord Haskel Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 1:21 pm, 16th May 2019

My Lords, speaking last, I cannot help but observe that all of us, and the country, have been on a mental health journey—a journey making us more and more aware of the prevalence, growth and impact of mental ill-health, its effect on people’s lives and the shortage of related services. I congratulate my noble friend on moving this debate, especially during Mental Health Awareness Week when a lot of these considerations come together.

As I became more and more aware of mental health on my journey, so I was able to observe and recognise how young people were coming under greater stress, and how the services designed to deal with this stress were themselves coming under more and more stress and pressure. The causes are everywhere; noble Lords have mentioned school, home, the media, sport, relationships and the transition to adulthood. I have particularly noticed the polarisation of the generations, as shown in the recent FCA report, which I think deserves a lot more study. Others have spoken of social media, where platforms are set up to reward young people’s engagement so that they are encouraged to continuously feed off each other, adding to their stress. We really need to get on with separating control of the platforms from control of the content.

Like my noble friend Lady McIntosh, I have no expertise, but it seems to me that the best support one can give is to help those who are trying to establish good practice and sound procedures to prevent these problems emerging in the first place and, if they do emerge, to provide help in coping with them. YoungMinds has campaigned for additional investment in services for young people’s mental health while at the same time providing a parents’ helpline for information, advice and support for those concerned about the mental health of young people. It has also made people more aware of mental health problems so that they can be caught earlier. The earlier the intervention, the less pressure there is on services and on the child. Awareness is important, but it is absolutely no substitute for action.

These positive measures are the best sources of prevention, but of course they are difficult to measure. Can the Minister reassure us that, even so, the prevention strategy will include these positive measures? They are especially important now, with cuts to youth services and community workers, and sport, art, music and other activities in schools being cut due to academic pressures. As others have said, we know that the majority of mental health problems are established when we are young. This makes a prevention strategy especially important.

Another aspect of maintaining the mental health of young people is to ensure that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is upheld, in government, schools, health services and criminal justice. I came across this as part of my duties as a member of your Lordships’ Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, when we scrutinised an order regarding children working undercover for the police. This brought me into contact with Just For Kids Law, a charity which campaigns for the rights of juveniles under this UN charter.

In May 2017, the UK was examined under the universal periodic review carried out by the United Nations, which includes examining the rights of the child. Among the recommendations coming out of this review are recommendations about age-appropriate mental health services. However, in spite of campaigning, the Government supported only 28% of the recommendations regarding children’s rights and mental health. Of course, the Government can choose whether just to take note of recommendations from the United Nations committee or to accept them; they do not have the force of law. However, they have a moral pressure. Can the Minister tell us the status of the recommendations which were not accepted? Are they under consideration, or have they been rejected?

Of course, the mental health of young people touches us all. To this end, in October last year the Government announced an ambitious programme to train 1 million people in mental health awareness, with a pilot in the West Midlands ahead of a national rollout which was to take place about now. Is this going to happen?

Real improvement in young people’s mental health is achieved by reaching young people early, hopefully before they actually need the services. For this, we all need to be aware. Mental Health Awareness Week is an important contribution to this and, together with other noble Lords, I welcome the opportunity to participate.