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TV: Young, British and Depressed - "What is wrong with our society that all these people are feeling this way?"
David Kaplan, North London Socialist Party
In 'Young, British and Depressed' ('Dispatches' on Channel 4, 29 July), Sanah Ahsan focussed on the crisis facing young people in their search to be treated for mental health problems.
Advertising campaigns have called for more openness about mental health, encouraging people to talk about their issues and seek help. But, as one young person in the programme pointed out, the problem is there is just no help available.
Young people want to access talking therapies, but there is a waiting list for these of one year or longer. One in eight people aged five to 19 have a problem with their mental health, and two out of three young people are not getting the treatment they need.
In 2018, there were 700,000 referrals of under-19s to child and adolescent mental health services - a 45% increase in two years.
Demand is at an all-time high; half of children who need the services wait more than four and a half months before being assessed. Often, their level of need is not deemed great enough, so they are not prioritised for early intervention. In the meantime, their crises worsen.
The programme surveyed 1,000 GPs. 86% said that prescribing anti-depressants had increased because of the lack of availability of alternative, talking therapies. 39% said they prescribed anti-depressants to under-18s but only 1% thought it was the best treatment for them.
A head teacher recognised that poverty contributed to the mental health problems of students in her school. And one young person on the programme concluded: "What is wrong with our society that all these people are feeling this way?"
One of the key anxieties facing young people is GCSEs. Two years ago, the Tory government introduced a new grading structure, format and content for these exams. Little attention is drawn to the fact that these exams fail around one-third of those taking them.
Along with the Ofsted inspections, performance tables, and a lack of proper funding, this has placed incredible pressures on secondary schools to maintain their 'standards' and 'performance'. Teachers and students have borne the brunt of the changes.
Abolition of performance tables would relieve the pressure on schools - and on the students who are expected to perform at the end of year eleven. We need to abolish Ofsted and the other inspectorates.
There needs to be a reduced emphasis on the outcomes of GCSEs, and alternative ways of assessing the achievement of students, not just through examination results. School leavers also need fully funded training and apprenticeships, with guaranteed jobs at the end, as an alternative to the academic route.
Education and health unions need to campaign alongside students for more funding for NHS mental health services and a reform of secondary education. Service workers, young people and the local community should control and manage education and health services to ensure they meet the needs of everyone.
A socialist society could ensure that the pressures that face young people today are ended, and instead allow people to flourish in their own way and take control over their own lives.
- 'Young, British and Depressed' is available on All 4 until 28 August
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