Let’s Make The Early Prevention Myth a Thing of The Past

There are a host of hard truths which very few of us are normally willing to confront. Here’s one: ‘Early prevention’ - meaning the proactive mental health support that can reduce the likelihood of more severe and entrenched difficulties later on - is a distant dream for many young people.

Despite the continuous drip feed of warm words and pledges by policy makers, the reality on the ground doesn’t measure up to the high expectations that are placed on local services.

The truth is: If we want a lasting solution, we have to break free from this cycle of tinkering around the edges of a broken system. Patching over the cracks over and over again just leads to a Groundhog Day, where young people wake up to same same nightmare, year in, year out.

"If we want a lasting solution, we have to break free from this cycle of tinkering around the edges of a broken system."

Now, with the government’s plans to “transform” youth mental health services being panned by politicians and other stakeholders alike, it’s more important than ever to push for a better plan for early intervention.

Desperate times call for desperate measures

The children’s charity, Barnardo’s reported last week that services are often only available when young people are likely to self-harm or are at the brink of suicide. Why is it that we have become worryingly dependent upon crisis response as the de facto provision for young people? Why are we being left to suffer for so long?

Public Health England report that 70% of young people felt they did not have the ‘appropriate interventions’ at an age which might have prevented an escalation. This is compounded by staff shortages and an anxiety within mental health trusts about their effectiveness in meeting the needs of both children and young people. The Care Quality Commission, highlights the simple fact that if an individual is not deemed to be in urgent need, the wait will be considerably longer.  

There are many facets to the failure of early intervention, from the difficulty in gaining access to services, to the inconsistency from one local area to another. While government figures might know this, it’s not being reflected in policy.

"We must keep pushing, and putting young people's voices front and centre."

It seems a long time ago that the government’s Future in Mind strategy, back in 2015, vowed to push for “waiting times standards that bring the same rigour to mental health as is seen in physical health.” Frankly, I have little hope this will be achieved any time soon if it's left to politicians and the status quo of policy-making.

Change is on the horizon

The path towards better fortunes for early intervention is complex and precarious. And it won’t come about quickly. Realistically, even if we found a magic bullet tomorrow, a generation of children and young adults would still miss out on interventions at an early enough stage to make a crucial difference.

But we must keep pushing, and putting young people's voices front and centre in decisions around mental health. Change is on the horizon - from politicians to charities, and especially young people, there’s a movement of people ready to build something better. It’s easy to despair at the problems we face today, but if we can find a solution for tomorrow - our struggles won’t have been in vain.

Jack is on the Make Our Rights Reality steering group, driving forward the first campaign - Our Minds, Our Future, with young activists all over the country who are demanding the youth mental health system meets our human rights.