Young people with mental health problems: supporting parents and carers

November 30 2022

White curve
The new NHS Digital report suggests one in four 17- to 19-year-olds in England had a probable mental health disorder in 2022. CEO Clare Stafford holds out hope for families.

I read the BBC's coverage of the new NHS Digital report yesterday on the way to a meeting of Charlie Waller's board of trustees.

I had to go over it twice to make sure I hadn't misread the figures.

That one in four young people aged 17-19 had a probable mental health disorder this year was alarming enough.

The indication that two thirds of those aged 17-24 have a possible eating problem had me checking the figures again. It means, clearly, that more young people in this age group have an issue with food than don't. 

Likewise for sleep - two-thirds of 17 to -23-year-olds, the report indicated, had had problems sleeping in the last week. 

It can be easy to become despondent when faced with a problem of this apparent magnitude. Those of us working in the mental health field might start to feel overwhelmed by the statistics. Those at the very sharp end, like parents and carers, may feel overwhelmed by anxieties and the practicalities of looking after a child with a mental health problem. This might be especially true for people with additional pressures such as poor housing, fuel poverty and other forms of marginalisation.                                      



Reasons for hope

In a context this challenging, is it possible to find hope? I believe it is, for three main reasons:

Firstly, I think there can be little doubt that, whilst these numbers are very concerning, many more young people feel able to talk about their mental health and to get help than was the case, say, 10 years ago; certainly more than when the Charlie Waller Trust began in 1997.

The challenge is to ensure enough of the right help is available.

Secondly, there is strength in unity within the mental health sector. For over four years I have had the privilege of being vice-chair of the Children and Young People's Mental Health Coalition. The coalition brings together leading charities to campaign jointly on the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people. Acting in unison, we work to influence change and implement policy and we will continue to do this.

Thirdly, so many of those with responsibility for young people - teachers, college and university staff, and particularly parents and carers - fervently want to help. We know this because our free training, resources and workshops are hugely well-received and give people hope - 'a lifeline', as many of them describe it.

Harnessing potential

All this, of course, needs to be underpinned by properly resourced and joined-up mental health services for young people. Teachers, parents and carers can't do it on their own, even with guidance from professionals like our expert trainers.

But it has shown me that there is a great deal of potential to be harnessed.

“Before joining Jenny’s group, I felt very alone, isolated and hopeless. Through attending the courses I have learnt so much and been able to use what I’ve learned to support both my daughters.”

Our work with parents and carers has already demonstrated the impact of empowering them to support young people with mental health issues.

Over the next three years we have a plan to expand this. We'll reach more families through our training sessions, groups and courses; we'll train more parents and carers with lived experience to become part of the professional mental health workforce as peer supporters; and we'll provide more tailored resources to help them support their children.

I'm very fortunate as a CEO. The trustees I was on my way to meet when I read the report are a dynamic, knowledgeable and talented group of individuals. They are determined to ensure that the Charlie Waller Trust works with colleagues across the sector to improve the mental health of children and young people across the UK.


If you'd like to support our work...

For one week only, until midday on Tuesday 6 December, all donations to Charlie Waller are being doubled, thanks to the Big Give Christmas Challenge. All donations, however large or small, will be of huge value to our work with parents and carers. We appreciate your support enormously.

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