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10 Oct 2021

World Mental Health Day – A Lost and Lonely Generation

The theme of this year’s World Mental Health Day is ‘Mental Health in an Unequal World’, which was chosen by a global vote of members and supporters of the World Federation for Mental Health.

The inequalities with access to mental health services

The theme highlights areas which SANE has been campaigning over for many years. Access to mental health services remains unequal in both rich countries and poor, a reflection of the unequal funding that mental health receives in broader national health budgets.

This, combined with stigma and discrimination, can often contribute to very different outcomes depending a person’s socio-economic status, or their sex, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation.

The pandemic’s negative impact on children’s mental health

As parts of the world slowly emerge from the pandemic, SANE is particularly concerned about children and young people, and especially girls, whose lives have been so heavily curtailed over the last eighteen months.

In recent years there has been a worrying increase in the incidence of mental ill-health reported in young people. A recent survey by NHS Digital found that as many as one in six had a probable mental disorder.

This figure has not changed since the lockdowns of last year, and represents a huge leap from the figure of one in nine who had a probable disorder when the survey was conducted in 2017.

It appears to be girls who are most affected, which echoes SANE’s own experience of almost epidemic levels of eating disorders and self-harm amongst this cohort (see The danger of creating a “lost and lonely generation” – SANE).

Long waiting times for overstretched children mental health services

At the same time, children’s mental health services are desperately overstretched, with long waiting times for treatment, while the pandemic has only made things worse for those already suffering from mental ill-health.

During the last year as many as one in five children have had to wait more than twelve weeks to access care.  The average wait was more than two months and in some parts of the country was more than eight, according to a BBC investigation (see Covid: Children’s mental health has not improved since lockdown – BBC News)

A perfect storm for young people

Many of the factors that may be driving the demand for services, such as the impact of social media on both girls and boys, remain largely unaddressed, while uncertainties around exams, jobs and economic security, have created a perfect storm for many young people.

The pandemic and the lockdowns have deprived so many of the authentic social connections that make life tolerable. This World Mental Health Day, SANE declares that we are in danger of creating a lost and lonely generation, disconnected from themselves, their families and friends.

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