The Archbishop of Canterbury has said that more effort needs to be made to understand the issues children and young people face as the numbers struggling with mental health problems continues to grow.
The Children’s Society reports that almost a quarter of a million 10- to 15-year-olds are unhappy with their lives, while NHS figures say that one in eight children and young people are affected by mental health problems.
Archbishop Justin Welby, who was today hosting a conference on mental health at Lambeth Palace in London, wrote in the Guardian that “something is beginning to shift” but that more could be done to support children and young people.
“We, as a society, need to make an effort to understand the issues children and young people face,” he said.
“We need to start by listening to children and young people when they tell us about these issues, when they talk about the pressures on body image, their fears about crime and safety, and the stress of social media and worries about climate change.”
He said that “swift” and early intervention, as well as proper access to support and services “can make all the difference” but that the issue of stigma also needed to be addressed.
“One of the things preventing children getting help is stigma,” he said.
“Although we have gone some way to breaking down the stigma around mental health, there is a long way to go, particularly with conditions where symptoms are perceived to be ‘frightening’. Things have changed, but those suffering from mental illness can still feel ostracised, judged and misunderstood.”
The Archbishop, whose own daughter Katharine Welby-Roberts has spoken often about her struggle with depression, went on to address the additional pressure from social media that could make young people “feel as if they should always be winning” or going on “exotic holidays with good-looking people”.
While there was an “expectation that we should always be happy,” the Archbishop said that “too many children are unhappy”.
He suggested that the antidote to the problem lay in being more honest about the human experience and setting “more realistic expectations for our children’s lives”.
“Let’s acknowledge how we feel when things don’t go our way: those moments we’ve all had when we feel lost or hopeless or alone,” he said.
“I long for us to break down that isolation, so all children have someone they can talk to when times are hard.”
He concluded by challenging churches to be communities where young people with mental health issues feel welcomed and able to share their stories and feelings.
“To ensure young people are able to talk to someone, be it a friend, relative or a professional, we’ve all got to step up and be there for each other. We are not alone,” he said.
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