I’ve personally been involved with Make Our Rights Reality (MORR), a youth-led movement co-ordinated by Youth Access, since the spring of 2018. Together we are organising the Our Minds Our Future campaign, which aims to honour every young person’s right to mental health and bring attention to the wider need for change. I joined because, like many young people then and now, I was dissatisfied with the UK mental health system. This role has kept me going while the world has turned upside-down and inside out, so I jumped at the chance to write this account.
As with many campaigns that seek real, substantial and long-term change, it has taken us time and effort to get to our current stage. Young people from across the UK have united to bring attention to the ways in which the current mental health system contravenes the basic human rights of young people. We have written blogs, created and shared a petition, held local events, contacted decision-makers and recruited advocates, allies and pledge-takers. This is no small achievement and we are proud of our successes.
Obviously, there is more to do.
Too many young people are turned away from services because they are either ‘too sick’ or ‘not sick enough’, and those that qualify for support are stuck on a waiting list for several months. During the battle for recognition of their difficulties, many deteriorate further and reach crisis point. This just isn’t good enough.
The government and the systems they put in place claim to understand mental health and say they want to support us in any way they can. Why, then, are there inflexible rules on how that support can happen? All young people are different and their support package needs to be tailored to them. This can include a combination of inpatient, outpatient, remote and community provisions.
The gap between the ideal and the reality is so stark that it begs the question: ‘Have any of the people in charge actually talked to young people?’ That’s why our core aims include ensuring that young people get a say in their care. It’s no good offering the support that was needed yesterday, so our support services need to be flexible, aware and able to accommodate everyone no matter how they present at the time.
Another of our recommendations is that anyone working with young people gets training in mental health issues. Spotting the signs early could prevent the situation from escalating. Young people themselves need to know about mental wellbeing so that they can ask for help. We need to empower people so that everyone can access support.
Removing the stigma around mental illness is crucial as we don’t want anyone to feel they shouldn’t ask for help. During the lockdown(s), it finally seemed to be recognised that it’s OK TO NOT BE OK. Not to be cynical, but where was that message before? More is needed to normalise discussing negative experiences and feelings. Another question is: ‘Where could they go for support?’, but we’ve covered that.
It’s pretty well known that young people have a lot of concerns that older generations may not identify with. Not as obvious is the fact that not all young people have the same experiences (background, sexuality, disabilities, socioeconomic status, culture, risk of being involved in crime, religion etc.). Furthermore, the recent national and global events have impacted us all- some consequences we know about and others we don’t yet. You cannot offer support to a young person without considering these factors and treating them as an individual. This is their right.
Enough with the doom and gloom. The hope is here.
At MORR, we believe that a rights-respecting mental health system is not only possible, but it’s absolutely necessary. Our original 5-point petition was the first step in making an impact, but we all agreed that it was necessary to expand and update this for today’s world. That’s why we worked together to produce the Our Minds Our Future manifesto outlining our vision for what the mental health system should look like in England. This is part of a UK-wide project giving young people in all of the four nations the opportunity to have their say in mental health services in their communities.
As one of the Rights Advocates in MORR, I was part of the team of passionate young people who created the manifesto’s core content. As young people ourselves, it wasn’t that difficult to express what we all need from services. Then we needed to refine it so that the message was clear. We deliberated over the language to use in our demands, as it needed to be accessible to any potential advocate, professional or decision-maker. Once the core content was finalised, other Rights Advocates then created the introduction and worked on finding statistics to emphasise our points. It was an intense few weeks, but a committed team can accomplish a lot. The finished content then went over to the comms team at Youth Access, who got it ready for release on our revamped website.
We have a lot of projects that we’re working on right now, including social media content to support the manifesto and plans to connect with even more people. We frequently time our actions to coincide with national awareness days related to mental health, so I’m sure you’ll be hearing from us more. Our aim is to spread the word, highlight the need and get the decision-makers to actually change things. Our generation and all future generations deserve it.
The manifesto is available here and we’d all be grateful for your support. Please read and, if you agree with us, share with everyone you know. You can also sign up to become a Rights Advocate so we can fight for change together. The sooner this change happens, the better!