It used to be the topic that no one would discuss. Now, it seems everyone’s talking about it. But are we any closer to finding the answers to Britain’s mounting mental health crisis?
According to media intelligence agency Roxhill Media, 2016 was the year when mental health finally went mainstream, accounting for 15.4 per cent of healthcare-related press coverage (more than cancer, at 11.4 per cent).
After years in the shadows, it’s great to see mental health getting the attention that it deserves. But tellingly, much of the coverage was focused on shortcomings in our current health system and wider society, rather than the progress being made.
This is particularly true for children and young people, who are increasingly finding they have no place to turn in times of turmoil. Today’s young people are the least active generation ever and this is having a serious knock-on effect in terms of mental health issues. Latest government figures show a significant increase in mental health issues among young people since 2010, with one in four women aged 16-24 having suffered from anxiety and depression, compared to 15 per cent of young men.
The importance of this agenda is why we, ukactive, have formed a new charity partnership with leading young people’s charity The Mix. Together, we are working to tackle the alarming rise in mental health issues among under 25s by getting young people moving more.
Following on from The Mix’s recent work as a lead partner for The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry’s Heads Together campaign, the collaboration will harness the power of physical activity to combat mental health conditions through a range of new research, health referral and signposting initiatives.
Making physical activity the beating heart of Britain’s health strategy is key to this. From enhancing people’s mood, to reducing stress and improving self-esteem, physical activity plays a crucial role in mental wellbeing and can cut the risk of depression – a growing issue among young people – by a third.
As we’ve seen from The Mix’s work with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s Heads Together campaign – particularly at the recent London Marathon – the fun and fulfilment of an active lifestyle can have a transformative impact on young people’s mental health.
We know that physical activity can be a powerful antidote to mental health conditions and could save millions through earlier interventions, so why not bring this into our GP care pathways? A recent World Health Organisation study found that the number of young people given antidepressants increased by more than 50 per cent in the last seven years, despite the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) stating that drugs should not be used to treat mild depression in children. Isn’t it time we made greater use of exercise to protect young people from a lifetime of reliance on prescription pills?
Through our partnership with The Mix, we will combine the expertise and networks of both parties to offer greater physical activity opportunities to young people. This includes academic research into effective youth interventions, a planned physical activity referral scheme for young people, activity pilot schemes in schools for pupils at high-risk of mental health issues and the creation of new e-learning and signposting tools to help young people access physical activity offerings in their area.
A key milestone for our partnership will be this year’s ukactive National Summit, where the importance of physical activity in mobilising our youth and tackling mental health problems will be a central theme. Held at the QEII in Westminster, the event will gather more than 600 thought leaders from the fields of politics, public health and physical activity to explore solutions to society’s biggest challenges.
As ever, finding the answer to end Britain’s mental health epidemic will be far from simple. But the need for action is clear. And at Summit on November 1st, we urge you to join us in Westminster and share your thoughts on how we can give young people a brighter future through activity.