This past week has seen several stories concerning the mental well-being of volunteers, especially those working with young people in Norwich. News about people taking their own lives seems to have had a wider appeal. The causes of this increased interest seem to be financial and political, with other causes possibly coincidental, such as the fact that it was Father’s Day.
Campaigners are stepping up their work to raise awareness about the issue, with a spokesperson from COVID, a voluntary sector organization in Norwich that provides support for people with a mental health issue, speaking to us about this issue and at the same time raising additional funds to support this work.
The number of young people in Norwich with mental health issues has risen – up from around 40 per cent to 60 per cent in a few years – and COVID is keen to make sure services are as good as they can be in areas of the city where there is a higher than average rate of young people with mental health issues.
Traditionally a lot of these children do not get access to the services that would work well for them. By this, I mean tailored supports (mental health therapies or events tailored specifically to young people), for example. There is more and more evidence that young people with mental health issues are overrepresented in categories such as police contacts and hospitals, and that working with young people can help to reduce these numbers. Many young people find that interacting with peers in the schools benefits them.
COVID recently launched an application for online schemes that will provide tailored, local activities to young people. Once this application has been made, COVID intends to deliver a campaign to residents to ask them to back the application, and to provide individual leaflets in all the relevant schools in the city.
“It is really difficult to put a figure on how many people will participate”, says Councillor Sue Campbell, “But if we do as many leaflets as possible, and had a good response – then we could raise enough money to offer a programme on youth-focused apps and a website.”
But even this campaign would not be enough for COVID to tackle the specific problem of increased rates of young people with mental health issues. One recent report indicates that there has been a rise in the number of children being taken into care, even though their family records show they are the least likely to be taken into care. This increase is called the multi-agency age gap.
It is becoming more commonplace for families to be assessed to see if there is a safety risk, even if there is not (in some cases it is a family problem, in others a child abuse issue). It will be vital to move away from this practice as, as we get more information about the causes of the increase in the number of young people taking their own lives, our existing approaches may be giving us more reasons to avoid these families. A volunteer is always willing to help with a problem, but supporting a family member can be difficult.
COVID hopes its new campaign will raise enough money to expand support in one specific part of the city so that it can look at the more comprehensive causes of young people with mental health issues.