The evidence of a mental health crisis, particularly affecting young people, continues to mount. A recent report from NHS Digital indicates that rates of probable mental disorders among 6- to 16-year-olds are now as high as one in six and have yet to come down from the levels seen during the first lockdown. Spark is a new initiative — run, as they say, by young people for young people — helping to raise awareness of mental health. Their commendable work encapsulates two ideas that underpin LBL thinking: participation (that getting involved and doing something is a good thing and is itself beneficial to mental health) and empowerment (encouraging and enabling young people themselves to take a lead).
The NHS Digital report makes for alarming reading. It says that rates of probable mental disorders among children and young people increased between 2017 and 2020 — in 6- to 16-year-olds from one in nine (11.6%) to one in six (17.4%) — and have yet to show signs of decline in 2021. Among other findings, it says that children with a probable mental health disorder were twice as likely to have missed lots of school (ie more than 15 days) during autumn 2020 than children who were unlikely to have a mental disorder. It also indicates worryingly high rates of young people with sleep problems — including more than a quarter of 6- to 10-year-olds and more than a third of 11- to 16-year-olds.
Spark — with their neat tagline, Sparking the conversation around mental health — is an outstanding new initiative from a group of young people (aged 14 to 16) who are keen to help other young people by encouraging them to talk about mental health and by developing resources for use in teaching and learning.
Here is what Spark say about themselves:
Our aim is to raise awareness of mental health in teenagers across the UK and provide resources for schools to use. We are based in North Devon. All our team are aged between 13-16 and still attend full-time education.from the Spark website
They have already produced some teaching and learning resources, which are freely available on their website, with plenty more promised. All their resources, they say, have been vetted by professionals in mental health and education.
Particularly eye-catching is the announcement of their upcoming All-Star Advent Calendar, which will feature celebrities such as Emma Thompson, Stephen Fry, Jonny Wilkinson, Bradley Walsh, Jessica Plummer and Steve Backshall talking about mental health. Money raised from the calendar project will go to Young Minds, a mental health charity that we have referred to several times in our blogs.
It is outstanding to see young people taking the initiative in this way. Spark is a great campaign to support. It is clearly in its early stages and the young people will be juggling this huge commitment around their school and college work. There are three easy ways that we can all support Spark: signing up for their newsletter, downloading and using their resources, and letting others know about their work.
LBL has blogged about other people who have led the way in a particular area and acted as outstanding role models for young people.
In the blog Saluting Emma, Aleesha and the many other inspirational young people, for example, we highlighted 6-year-old Aleesha, who took part in a challenge over the summer to raise money for the deforestation charity Cool Earth. She rode her scooter 80km to help save the world’s rainforests, receiving support from Sir David Attenborough, the prime minister and the Queen, after she wrote to them explaining her challenge.
In the March 2021 blog Two young women taking a stand against public sexual harassment, meanwhile, we wrote about Gemma and Maya and their campaign, Our Streets Now, “demanding the right of women and girls to feel and be safe in public space”. The campaign aims to end public sexual harassment in the UK by making it a criminal offence and to change “the culture that allows it”.
Gemma and Maya were featured across the media in July, for example in this MailOnline article, following the release of the government’s new Violence against Women and Girls strategy.
A huge well done to all of these inspirational young people.
The image at the head of this article is from this BBC online story: Devon teens create mental health resources for schools.