Alec Williams

This year, Parliament Week aimed to encourage young people to become more involved in politics. The three meetings we set up between young people and the MPs provided a good opportunity for doing just that – they presented the setting for young people to learn more about the political system, the platform to discuss mental health and politics with an MP and ultimately, the opportunity for their voices to be heard.

The young people looked to explore the following questions:

  1. what are the attitudes of young people towards mental health?
  2. What support are young people currently getting with regards to mental health?
  3. And, what could any aspiring Government be doing to improve this?

What all three groups were in agreement about – MPs and young people alike – is that currently, there is nowhere near enough mental health and emotional wellbeing support for young people. So what needs to change? A good place to start is schools. The MPs and young people agreed that this is where young people should (a) receive the necessary mental health support from counselling, peer mentor groups and other various outreach projects and (b) be educated and develop their understanding and attitudes towards mental health. The format for the latter is PSHE (a programme for personal, social and health education), and provides the focus for Amber and Sophia’s ‘Stop it before i starts’ campaign, which aims to have PSHE placed on the National Curriculum.

This idea is gaining momentum – a Private Members Bill from Caroline Lucas MP supporting statutory PSHE lessons is currently going through Parliament and just this week the Government has announced a new schools-based initiative to address the crisis in mental health support for young people. Statutory mental health and emotional wellbeing lessons within PSHE would capture the importance of educating the next generation about mental health. But in taking this important step, new hurdles would appear. As Frankie and Amira pointed out, the current framework for mental health and emotional wellbeing lessons within PSHE is somewhat ineffective and would need to be revised and developed for this step to be successful.

One topic all groups were ready to discuss was the stigma associated with mental health. This was something that the young people and MPs were not only all very aware of, but could relate to within their own social and professional circles. In June 2012, four MPs stood before the House of Commons and made the personal political by challenging stigma and revealing their mental health issues. Yet despite this, our three MPs confirmed that mental health stigma is still very prevalent in Parliament.

Likewise, the young people highlighted the stigma that surrounds mental health in their schools and the difficulty this creates for young people in speaking out. In contrast, though, the three sets of young people spoke with an openness and frankness about their mental health history which was particularly inspiring. Glenda was right to highlight the difficulty in reversing the issue of stigma – it is deeply entrenched within the nation’s psyche and it will take a long time to see a complete shift in public attitudes. That being said, much work is being done to rectify this and as our Parliament Week experience has highlighted, there is a younger generation coming through who are aware of mental health and responding appropriately.

From reading the blogs, it seems that the three groups of young people are more determined than ever to make a difference to mental health as a result of this process and that the MPs listened carefully to their opinions. It is up to this generation of young people and the forthcoming governments to continue to foster positive public attitudes towards mental health and work to provide better support for young people. With young people like Yara, Frankie, Amira, Sophia and Amber, their half of the bargain seems to be in good hands. And hopefully, as Glenda Jackson pointed out, future governments will listen to their voices and develop methods for providing them with better mental health support.

A big thank you to all the young people and MPs for taking part in this project.