Three steps to improve mental health support for young people

We spoke to 47 young people to find out how they want extra funding to be used, so they can access the mental health support they need.

The NHS is committed to improving mental health support for young people, but to do this it’s important to establish what good care looks like.

Over the past three years, we've heard from over 20,000 young people about their experiences of mental health support. To gain a deeper understanding of this issues, we brought together 47 young people, aged 16-25, to talk about what affects their mental health, their current experiences of care, and what services can do to better support them.1

What affects young people's mental health?

Stigma - Stigma is still an issue, and they told us that they often bottle up their feelings until they reach crisis point. 

Pressures - Young people feel under pressure to succeed and told us about the stress they experience due to external factors like exams, as well as peer pressure and pressure they place on themselves.

Social media - Young people told us how social media can be a trigger for poor mental health. However, they also shared it can be used positively to raise awareness, reduce stigma and build online communities. 

Gender – We also heard about gender-specific triggers. Young men told us how they don’t feel safe reaching out for help due to gendered social expectations, with some turning to drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism. Young women told us that self-esteem and pressures around body image are a common trigger.

A lot of ‘man up’ responses for problems I was having.

Young man, aged 19 - 25

What are young people’s current experiences of mental health care?

  • Long waiting times and insufficient support are ongoing issues, though young people told us they understand the system is under pressure.
  • Schools and universities don’t always provide the kind of support they are looking for, and some told us the negative consequences they experienced as a result.
  • Young people don’t feel they’re taken seriously when they reach out for help. Some told us about how adults dismissed their concerns as “just a phase” or “normal for teenagers”. Others said they felt patronised by the information they are given about how to seek support.

What do young people want their mental health support to look like?

1. Better education and communication

Young people want:

  • Ongoing support for their emotional wellbeing including preventative check-ins and longer term follow-up to treatment.
  • Realistic and responsible portrayals of mental health in the media to improve awareness and decrease stigma.

“13 Reasons Why made suicide look like a good way out and Hollyoaks had a storyline with self-harm and one character said it helped her deal with pressure so that’s how I started doing that.”

Young man, aged 16-18
  • Mental health on school curriculums from Year 7.
  • Mental health awareness and fundraising days in schools.
  • Regular mental health check-ups offered to all young people every 6 months.

2. More options and personalised care

Young people want:

  • As many mental health care options as possible, including different drug treatments, talking therapy, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and mindfulness.
  • More options for where they can be treated and timing of appointments, such as innovative community or online services, which they can access 24/7.
  • To see the same health professional, so they don’t have to explain their story multiple times.
  • More school and university counsellors who are trained in several types of therapy, so they can provide people with more options for treatment.

If they trained teachers to spot the signals for certain issues, even just key signs for depression or anxiety, so that students who don’t want or need help yet, could be informed on how to (get help) as soon as possible.

Young man, aged 16 - 18
  • To feel they’re being truly listened to by health professionals and that what they say will be kept confidential.
  • Transitions from Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services to adult mental health care to be personalised, and there should be flexibility on when the transition takes place depending on each person’s unique journey.

3. Peer support

Young people want:

  • Casual meet-ups with others who have a mental health condition, where they can help each other and talk about their issues.
  • Access to mentors and life coaches who have been through similar issues themselves.
  • Shorter waiting times for CAMHS specialists, but they understand this is not always possible. As an alternative they’d like to see interim options for peer or online support while they wait for a referral, further support or treatment.

Read the research

Read our research to find out young people's experiences of mental health care and what services can do to improve support. 

Download the report

This research was undertaken by DJS Research, an external agency that we commissioned for this work.