Abandoned to fend for themselves

Mental health should be at the forefront of support for young people in Britain. Instead, its marginalisation has left a generation stranded. 

The founding of the NHS was a great national achievement of the last century, yet in the 21st efficient mental health support is a great challenge yet to be realised. 

Young people are among those at the greatest risk of developing mental health problems, particularly in a country where economic strain can so easily affect even a stable mind. 

Since the start of the recession student suicides have risen dramatically, according to recent figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). 

Suicides by male students in higher education rose by 36 per cent between 2007 and 2011 from 57 to 78 and female student suicides nearly doubled from 18 to 34. 

According to Hannah Patterson, disability spokesperson for the NUS, "finance and debt problems are adding increasing pressures. 

When you're paying that much for your education, coming out with a good mark matters even more." The burdens on a young person today are manifold. 

Tuition fees, unemployment, job fears, academic pressures and financial insecurity are all crippling issues - not forgetting the government's "scrounger" rhetoric that cultivates additional shame. 

The case of 23-year-old student Toby Thorn, who wrote his suicide note on the back of an overdraft statement, is a travesty which should alone incite government action. 

Prioritisation of mental health is essential in order to reduce young deaths due to suicide. 

Unfortunately, increases in depression and anxiety have coincided with the cutting of mental health services, a vicious circle which gives an authoritative middle finger to those who need the means to reach out and help. 

Due to the financial costs incurred on higher education, universities have been forced to freeze posts that might have previously catered to student welfare. 

Budget cuts have forced universities to forego employing dedicated support staff because today they're considered nothing less than a luxury. 

It is hard for university counselling services to restructure and address the health pressures on young people with the debilitating short-term demands and remits of their financially struggling institutions. 

In 2011 the World Health Organisation published a report on the impact of the economic crisis on mental health. 

Rather than simply show the predictable trend between impoverishment and suicide rates, the report also suggested that social welfare can offset the most severe mental health effects of economic hardship. 

Yet George Osborne will cut the welfare bill by almost £4 billion a year by capping benefit increases at 1 per cent, hitting the poorest workers and jobseekers hard. 

These victims, already struggling to cope with fluctuating food and fuel prices, include many thousands of young people. If inflation rises at a faster rate than predicted their losses will be even higher. 

Last year, Care and Support Minister Norman Lamb voiced apparently sincere commitments to psychological care in the NHS yet made no mention of the recession and the great numbers of unemployed people who suffer mental stress. 

In truth, the government is complicit in ensuring that one of the main causes of depression and anxiety - employment worries - is going nowhere. 

The Prince's Trust 2010 Macquarie Youth Index, based on interviews with over 2,000 16 to 25-year-olds, revealed that 48 per cent had said unemployment had caused problems including self-harm and insomnia. 

GPs consistently come across young people in desperate mind sets, ashamed of going to the job centre in a culture of self-blame inflamed by the ignorant. But there are active voices tackling mental health. 

Time To Change is an ambitious programme that aims to end the stigma surrounding mental illness. Its "conversational" approach showcases the real desire to understand mental illness in this country. 

Its efforts deserve support because dialogue on mental health is important, especially when it is still so commonly misunderstood. 

There are a great number of incredible people in the student support sector who similarly help young people transgress the taboo of admitting to mental illness. 

However they are not serviced by a properly funded umbrella body. 

The lack of a national framework for developing mental health strategy seems to be an issue addressed by the Working Group For The Promotion Of Mental Health And Wellbeing In Higher Education. 

The predominant body for student mental health, it includes all the main membership networks and it aims to "influence policy on issues related to mental well-being in HE." 

Yet it receives no funding at all. Good practice in student mental health is incredibly important and the lack of a fully resourced umbrella group is of immediate concern. 

It's also a further sign of disinterest on the part of the government. The protection of young people should be an absolute prerogative and yet, with cuts laying waste to support services, this pledge cannot be made with any hint of sincerity. 

Many young people suffer from mental health issues, but how easily they can cope depends on whether our politicians take steps to support them. In a parallell universe, they might even accept some culpability in the process. 

Seamus Jennings is a school student.
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