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My Health, Our Future - children and young people's mental health in Suffolk

The challenges and complexity of children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing in Suffolk has been revealed in the latest report by Healthwatch Suffolk.

The local health and care watchdog says young people are facing increasing challenges to their mental health and that their subjective wellbeing is lower than the national average.

‘My Health, Our Future’ 2019 is the third in a series of reports that has been exploring the views of over 26,000 young people aged 11 – 19 in Suffolk. This year, almost 12,000 young people took part in a lesson plan and survey across 16 secondary schools and colleges.

The report identifies factors that are causing young people to worry about their wellbeing and focusses on issues such as self-esteem, body image, self-harm, bullying, mental health education and young people’s experiences of finding help. 

Despite increasing concern about their wellbeing, the report reveals that more than half of young people did not ask anyone for help when they needed it. Of those who did ask for help, the majority indicated that they had approached close friends or family. 

There were a number of reasons why young people may not be finding help. Students who had turned to mental health services often found them difficult to access or were passed between services. Others said they would feel embarrassed or worried about being a burden on the people around them. The most common reason for not seeking support was that they did not want help or felt they should be able to deal with problems on their own. 

Other important findings include:
  • 45% indicated they had experienced poor mental health in the last year. 
  • 55% who have experienced poor mental health said they had not sought help. Boys were less likely to ask for help than girls.
  • 14% said they have self-harmed and 14% would rather not say.
  • Young people in Suffolk have a self-esteem score that is more than four points lower than the national average.
  • 22% of boys and 58% of girls worry about their body image most or all of the time. 
  • 15% of boys and 18% of girls said they had seen content online that shows self-harm or suicidal behaviour. Those who have seen this content were one and a half times more likely to say they have self-harmed.
  • 14% of students aged over 14 said they have used cannabis in the last year. 3% said they had used cocaine. Boys were more likely to have used drugs.
  • Young people’s wellbeing declines with increased use of social media. However, those young people who do not use it at all had poorer wellbeing than those who were low level users.

For the first time, the report explores differences between specific groups of young people such as young carers and students from diverse backgrounds.
  • Young people belonging to an ethnic minority were less likely to say they would approach their parents for help.
  • 61% of young people with a disability said they had experienced poor mental health within the last 12 months.
  • Children in care were twice as likely to say that they have self-harmed. 1 in 3 children in care have self-harmed and 14% said they currently self-harm.
  • Young carers were almost twice as likely to say they had been bullied online. 

My Health, Our Future is partly commissioned by the NHS West Suffolk and Ipswich and East Suffolk clinical commissioning groups to shape and inform developing models of providing services and support to children and young people across the county. 

The project has achieved significant impact at local, regional and national levels, having recently informed a parliamentary select committee exploring the health and care experiences of people from LGBTQ communities. Locally, data concerning the worrying levels of self-harm amongst young people in Suffolk has led to decisions to fund new initiatives targeted at prevention.

Schools receive a bespoke report about their students and are starting to think about how they can address the issues raised by them. This might include peer support groups, improved information and advice, training for teachers and students, targeted education and embedding mental health and wellbeing teaching across the curriculum within their school. 

Andy Yacoub (Chief Executive) said:

“This year, we are proud to have engaged more schools and colleges than in any of the previous years and I would like to thank each and every one of them for helping us to reach so many of their students. Afterall, the large number of student responses is a major contributor to the impact of this work and would not be possible without their full support of the project.

“Access to help in school is extremely important, and we are pleased that the schools taking part in ‘My Health, Our Future’ consistently and enthusiastically respond to this project by introducing new initiatives to address pupil wellbeing. However, the worries young people are experiencing do not leave them at the end of their school day and we must therefore ensure that the offer of support extends into their life beyond the school gate.

“Year on year, we have seen some excellent progress on addressing the wellbeing of young people in the county. Indeed, many of them have been inspired or guided by this work. For example, the local “whole school approach” pilots and new digital wellbeing services have been a positive step in the right direction toward a model of support that prevents young people from needing higher levels of clinical mental health intervention. However, there is still some way to go.

“Sadly, we continue to be highly concerned about the levels of help available to children and young people in Suffolk who require mental health support. Lengthy waiting times, poor continuity of care and a subsequent feeling of being passed between services continue to be significant barriers for young people seeking help. This sentiment is reflected in many of their survey responses this year.”

Jo John, Senior Transformation Lead of Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services for NHS West Suffolk and Ipswich and East Suffolk clinical commissioning groups, said:

“The ‘My Health, Our Future’ report delivers invaluable insight into the wellbeing issues affecting our county’s young people, how the reasons for mental ill health are multi-faceted and that the right support needs to be available from a wide variety of sources.

“Our young people deserve the best start and so it important that all of us, including the NHS, education, voluntary, community and other public sector organisations work with young people and their families to give them the best chance of living a happy, healthy and fulfilling life.

“One of the biggest issues highlighted is that 55% of young people did not ask for help or support. We have really focussed on improving access to services. With many young people most comfortable online, last October we introduced Kooth, which offers 365 day a year access to online counselling support, and in the first two months of going live there have been almost 500 users.

“We are also really pleased to have been able to expand the support on offer in schools with two new mental health teams working with children and young people in education across east and west Suffolk.

“With one in seven young people reporting a mental health difficulty it is clear there is still a lot of work to be done, and we are determined to continue to work with our partners, children, young people and families to make a positive difference. We are grateful to the schools and young people who took the time to give their input and without which there would be no report.”

Read more from Healthwatch Suffolk and the full report HERE

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