Young people and mental health – a political issue

This article, by Joe Booth, was originally published in Solidarity newspaper in March 2017.

Statistics show that help for young people with mental health issues is dramatically decreasing. A 2016 investigation by the Guardian and 38 Degrees showed that trusts around England were “drawing up plans for hospital closures and cutbacks” in an attempt to avoid a £20 billion shortfall by 2020. This means that young people aren’t getting the help they need or deserve.

Some 75% of mental health issues begin before the age of 18. The charity, MQ, estimates that on average, there are three children in every classroom with a diagnosable mental illness or unrecognised mental health problems. In January, a 16-year-old friend of my family committed suicide: she was severely depressed, and the problems in the world were hard for her to cope with.

She was not alone. 26% of young people in the United Kingdom experience suicidal thoughts. Likewise, the 44% of 16-24-year-old LGBT+ people who are frequently bullied are at a higher risk of suicide, self-mutilation and/or depression. Looked-after children and care leavers are between four and five times more likely to attempt suicide in adulthood. 18.9% of looked-after children below the age of five (19.3% of boys and 17.4% of girls) showed signs of behavioural or emotional problems.

These statistics emphasise that there are too many young people — and adults — who kill themselves, harm themselves or suffer from depression because of living under an oppressive and alienating society. Depression and self-hatred may come from loneliness or pessimism, or from alienation and oppression. We need improvements in facilities to help young people. YoungMinds is the UK’s leading charity committed to improving the emotional wellbeing and mental health of children and young people.

According to them, more than 850,000 children and young people in the UK have been diagnosed with a mental health condition. YoungMinds do the best they can as the leading organisation committed to philanthropically helping people, but they are limited by being a charity. Young people may receive help from this charity, or from CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services), but we also need to discuss and address why young people are suffering, and the ultimate solution to it.

I want to respond to the death of my family friend by learning from her and campaigning for the politics that will prevent it happening again.

We need not just philanthropy but political demands and a significant change. I think we need help groups or services to become politically radical and open to the prevention of young people harming themselves or become depressed. We need a fund or organisation that is socialistic, with an overall objective to understand why young people with mental health issues, and neurodivergent young people, commit suicide, harm themselves and/or suffer from depression, and to consider the solution to it. We need solidarity against the causes of mental ill-health and low self-esteem; we need activism and revolutionary socialist politics.

Why we’ve chosen to launch this campaign: Take The Stress Out Of Studying

The Clarion magazine interviewed Joe Booth, one of the founding campaigners

Clarion: Why do we need to take the stress out of studying?
We need education so we can learn things so we can contribute to society. If we are stressed while studying we are not contributing. It is not just students but also school workers. But just looking at students school pressure goes way beyond what is needed to motivate us: it is exams, it is regimentation, rigidity of the curriculum, and it is everything that removes democracy from the running of education.
Students often deal with this stress by misbehaving in lessons. Often it leads to students not wanting to be in school. School is regimented as it emulates the workplace. This is not the sort of education we need, we want an education that allows us to think for ourselves.
Clarion: What could be done to make studying less stressful?
We should abolish exams. Detentions could be abolished or reformed. Teachers need more support, resources and smaller class sizes so they are not stressed when dealing with students, and passing that stress onto them. We should abolish academies, and bring all existing academies back into local control. Students need more individual attention and support. Lessons should be about the subject, not about how to pass the exam. Cuts to special education needs support needs to stop, and be reversed. We also need to fight against the huge cuts coming to schools which will see schools losing even more teachers and support workers.
This happens in universities as well. 27% of university students report having mental health problems while studying, with higher rates amongst women and LGBT students.
Clarion: How can school workers (teachers etc) be involved in a campaign to take the stress out of studying?
They can campaign on the stress that effects school workers, as this impacts on the education of students. The National Education Union should organise a serious campaign around school worker stress, but also the causes of this stress. We need ideas about how to create a different form of education system which is not based on jumping through exam and assessment hoops, and conform to a restrictive curriculum.
We want them to unite with students who face stress, and are organising against it.
Clarion: What can people who want to get involved do for the campaign?
In your school you could organise a petition around a specific issue/s that affects you and your school mates or the workers in the school. And you can have further discussions on how to solve all of these issues in our movement.