For the first time, young people in Northern Ireland have come together to demand a voice in shaping the future of mental health education and support services.
A culture of silence is preventing thousands of teenagers in Northern Ireland from accessing vital mental health services, according to a report carried out by young people for young people.
Now they are urging decision makers to listen to their demands for better information and for an awareness raising campaign to challenge the stigma of mental health.
The ‘Elephant in the Room: Exploring young people’s awareness of mental health in Northern Ireland’ was created by the Youth Mental Health Committee which conducted an online attitude survey of more than 1200 young people aged 14-17.
Ninety per cent of those surveyed believed that there needs to be an awareness raising campaign focusing on mental health and young people to challenge the stigma and culture of silence.
The committee represents the Northern Ireland Youth Forum, Belfast Youth Forum and the youth@clc (youth advisory panel to the Children’s Law Centre). The campaign to date has been funded by the National Lottery and Belfast City Council.
Niamh Mallaghan (17) from the Youth Mental Health Committee said:
“Our campaign means so much to every single person involved for different reasons and now that we have had the chance to work so hard to achieve our aims, it has really shown us what we are capable of doing. Our report is only been launched and I feel as though we’re already changing attitudes and destroying stigma and it’s such a rewarding feeling. We hope that this campaign will be long running and have the ability to make the change that young people in Northern Ireland need.”
Amanda Stewart, from the Northern Ireland Youth Forum, added: “This report shows clearly that young people need to have a voice when it comes to the future planning of Mental health information and services. The young people have exposed the ‘Elephant in the Room’ – the Government’s failure to provide adequate strategies and services to combat the growing number of young people affected by mental ill health. More than 20% of them will have experienced mental health problems by the time they are 18.”
The authors of the report are calling on decision makers to:
- Support the creation of a youth-led, government backed mental health campaign, challenging the culture of silence and negative stigma
- Work with young people to develop a new and positive language around mental health by creating a ‘mental health dictionary’ which could be used as part of a mental health curriculum programme.
- Create a compulsory curriculum programme for all schools and colleges on mental health and wellbeing that helps to raise awareness and challenge stigma and allows young people to access consistent mental health information.
- Create a website for young people designed by young people to provide mental health information, support and raise awareness and challenge stigma.
With the help of experts from Ulster University the project team developed an online survey and held a series of focus groups across Northern Ireland. A total of 1268 young people completed the survey and 151 took part in the focus groups in Belfast, Newry, Ballymena and Derry.
The survey found that more than 90% believed mental health was a huge issue for young people in Northern Ireland. It identified three broad areas of concern: Stigma, Safe Spaces and Schools and Information.
It found that the stigma surrounding mental health prevented young people talking about it. Large numbers of those taking part in the survey said there was a lack of safe spaces to talk about mental health. They talked about the negative impact of social media on mental health, leading to online bullying or a backlash from friends.
But participants said that the internet was the best place to reach young people and to get them access to mental health information. The challenge was to separate fact from fiction and keep young people safe online.
The research showed that young people felt the schools could do more in providing mental health education and support. 87% of those surveyed felt that mental health education should be part of the school curriculum.