The statistic that seven in 10 nurses deem mental healthcare inadequate ought to shock us. Rather frighteningly, it appears as though it is common knowledge that our mental healthcare system is severely flawed. Then again, perhaps we have become desensitised to statistics more generally. After all, they are simply bland, declarative sentences that can easily be dismissed.
If this is indeed the case, let us inject a bit of imagination into the statistic. What if, instead of the word ‘nurse’, I were to say: an individual who spent years of their life meticulously learning how to help people with mental issues, only to realise that the larger system that they were part of hindered rather than facilitated their work. Admittedly, it is a mouthful. However, it is important to acknowledge that this statistic was taken from real nurses, who work with real young people. If you are sceptical about the validity of most research statistics, it will reassure you to know that the poll was conducted by the Royal College of Nursing, and surveyed all 631 mental health nurses working in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).
It is fair to say then that empirical evidence demonstrates that things definitely need to change when it comes to healthcare for young people. As if the situation was not worrying enough, eight out of 10 nurses think problems in CAMHS are making the suffering of young people with mental health problems worse. This is not entirely surprising. Some young people are made to wait seven to eight months before they are referred by their GP to a specialist. Going through consecutive dark days for months on end, while waiting for someone to help, truly sounds like anyone’s worst nightmare.
In an ideal world, there would be some measures that could be taken to improve this grave situation. Clearly, if the solutions were so simple that an 18-year-old could list them then we would not be in this dilemma in the first place – but there are some things worth reiterating.
The support system should be present at a grassroots level. It is not enough for a school simply to have a counsellor. It is imperative that they are easily accessible to young people, and trained specifically to give students guidance. It may sound self-explanatory, but one student interviewed reported that their school counsellor came in once every two weeks, for two hours. Schools generally have quite a few pupils. Even if an eighth of them wanted to talk to the counsellor (bearing in mind figures suggest that this number is much higher) a lot of problems would remain unresolved.
Finally, and most importantly, we must eradicate the taboo surrounding the idea of asking for help. It is not as if there are not schemes available to tackle the onset of mental illness quite early on – it is the fact that young people often do not realise that what they are experiencing is something that can be cured. By the time it morphs into a serious problem, and starts to be taken seriously, a lot of the damage is done.
Only six per cent of the budget for mental health goes towards children and young people. An increase in funding would certainly help improve prospects, but ultimately, prevention is the best approach. Young people need to be made aware of the very real danger that is mental health, so that they can recognise their own symptoms and ask for help.
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