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Young voices help improve mental health services


People have told us mental health is a top priority in 2016. The Government recently announced extra support for mental health in England, along with faster treatment for teenagers with eating disorders.

We spoke to Healthwatch Essex to find out more about the work they are doing to understand what young people want from mental health services.

How did the issue come about?

In December 2013, we produced a film in which young people in Essex shared their experiences of health and care services. Despite having made considerable use of many different services, the young people we spoke to felt that they were rarely listened to and did not have the opportunity to influence the way services are run.

The following year, we created the YEAH! Project: a unique study providing young people across Essex with a platform to share their daily experiences of health and care. Working in partnership with Essex Boys and Girls Clubs, we spoke to over 400 people, aged 15-19.

What did people tell you?

I'm tired of being told we don't understand, or we don't know anything about what's going on and that our views aren't good enough

One of the key things we discovered was that mental health was a major priority for young people. We found:

  • 8 in 10 young people had received no mental health information and did not know how to access mental health support.
  • 9 in 10 wanted to learn more about mental health.
  • Many young people want compulsory education about mental health. They felt that raising awareness through education would help reduce the stigma and isolation around mental health conditions.
  • Young people who had experience of using mental health services said it was hard to get referred for treatment, waiting times were too long and that sometimes follow up appointments didn’t materialise.
  • People often felt that GPs did not understand mental health issues in young people, or treat them seriously, which made them feel their health issues were trivial and discouraged them from seeking the help they needed.
  • Some described the place they went to for help as unfriendly and not in tune with their situation or needs.

What happened as a result?

Our YEAH! Report has had a wide-reaching impact. Most recently, NHS and councils in Essex, Southend and Thurrock have launched a £3.3 million plan to improve mental health for children and young people - our report was a key source of evidence for the service revamp.

The “Open Up, Reach Out” plan sets out how mental health services for children and young people in Essex will change over the next five years. Some of the improvements include:

  • Nearly £1 million per year to expand services for eating disorders.
  • Enhanced crisis services open from 9am-9pm, 7 days a week.
  • Making it easier for young people to access mental health services.
  • Special training and support for schools and other places that help children and young people.

Have you received any feedback?

The “Open Up, Reach Out” plan has been widely praised and in a recent assessment by NHS England, it was rated as the highest in the Midlands and East region.

Dr Tom Nutt, CEO Healthwatch Essex, said: 

"We’re delighted to see the impact that our YEAH! Report has had. The planned redesign of young people’s mental health services is much needed and was a major issue to be highlighted by the young people we listened to. The “Open Up, Reach Out” plan is a huge and welcome overhaul of a vital service for young people."

We’re now working on a follow-up report, YEAH!2, which will further explore young people’s mental health and will be published in the spring.

Read more in Healthwatch Essex's report