A group of young people walking away from the camera

In the fight for young people’s mental health, charities are critical

By Lily Meisner 4 April 2023 4 minute read

I recently had a conversation with a friend about the rise of ‘organisation TikTok’. Over the last few years, there’s been a huge uptick in social media content focussed on organising your space, structuring your life, morning routines, evening routines, and young people are loving it—or at least, consuming it a lot. If you look at comment sections, young people are clearly seeking support, structure and a sense of control by engaging with this content. Whilst this is an interesting social media trend, this growing obsession with comforting and calm-inducing content arguably reflects the worrying level of anxiety young people are experiencing today. Having emerged from a deadly pandemic and plunged headfirst into a cost-of-living crisis, young people are grappling with what feels like a perpetual lack of control—and it’s having a devastating impact on an already spiralling mental health crisis. With the need for support continuing to rise, an NHS stretched beyond its limits and an inadequate government response, it’s no wonder young people who are struggling with their mental health are turning to social media to find temporary respite and coping mechanisms.  

As a young person with lived experience of mental illness, I can totally relate to self-soothing by means of wholesome social media content. But often, this comes with a feeling that you should probably be seeking help elsewhere too. For me, and a lot of young people in the UK, this is where the charity sector comes in. With current wait times for mental health treatment reaching 12 weeks, people simply can’t wait that long whilst their mental health rapidly deteriorates. Being in such an agonising limbo is shown to lead to significantly worsening mental health, and attempts of suicide. In many cases, this is where the support of charities has been lifesaving. Samaritans, Shout and Mind are just some of the charities providing free listening services to people in crisis. In its first three years, after launching in 2018, Shout’s 24/7 text messaging mental health support service prevented the suicides of 126 people in the UK, as a result, saving the UK economy an estimated £252m. By 2025, forecasts predict prevention of a further 288 suicides and with suicide and intentional self-harm being the leading cause of death among children and young adults aged 5-34 in the UK, a service like Shout is in desperate demand. 

As well as being there in a crisis, charities can also provide high quality and meaningful support, by involving lived experience in service delivery. Mind centres ‘lived experience influence and participation’ in its work by including a diverse range of people with experience of mental health problems, in order to resist a ‘one size fits all’ approach to treatment. I’ve been able to experience the difference this approach can make first-hand. Thinking back to conversations I’ve had through Mind’s helpline myself, the impact of being listened to by someone who can relate to what you’re going through can make a world of difference—particularly after experiencing rushed conversations with statutory services, where sadly it’s difficult to feel truly heard by GPs who are stretched beyond capacity. Charity mental health support services developed and delivered by experts by experience can be an integral part of helping a young person see that there’s light at the end of the tunnel.  

There is also opportunity for charities to play a role in collaborative, community-based, integrative mental health support services. A recent research report from Look Ahead, exploring alternative options for mental health crisis care for young people, makes a case for commissioning new accommodation-based, or community in-reach services, that support young people at a time of crisis. The report highlights what policy makers, clinicians, health and social care commissioners and providers can do to tackle current challenges facing children and young people mental health crisis services, but charities can also drive significant change in this space. Community-based initiatives are inherent to the voluntary sector—from foodbanks to community crowdfunder social enterprise, Beam—charities can successfully bring society together, having a transformative impact. I recently attended East London Foundation Trust’s event, CEN: Through The Lens, where health care practitioners and people with lived experience discussed the need for community integrated care for mental health. It was clear that this isn’t something the NHS currently has the time or resources to implement effectively, meaning that it’s falling on charities and grassroots organisations with links to local communities, to create this change.  

Collaborative approaches also include working in co-ordination with the sector to influence policy and advocate for better mental health support. The Mental Health Foundation, YoungMinds and Centre for Mental Health are among many charities responding regularly to government policies on mental health, urging for better support. In its recent policy briefing paper, the Mental Health Foundation makes several recommendations for governments across the UK, including fast-track access to funding for community-led initiatives. Significant change often requires significant funding, and charities like the Mental Health Foundation can influence government to act on this.  

Charities are needed now more than ever to support and advocate for better mental health for young people in the UK. Through crisis support, co-designed services and collaboration with others, charities are doing all they can to tackle the mental health crisis for young people. Still, significant systemic change is needed to truly solve the issue, and the work of charities will be central to that.  


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