Steph Taylor, Head of Talent Match London, London Youth’s multi partner strategic employability programme for young people, reflects on mental health needs of teenagers and young adults.

Earlier this week we held discussions with young people from the Talent Match London programme in order to inform our response to the Youth Select Committee consultation on mental health services. We don’t deliver mental health services at London Youth, but we do work with young people with specific diagnosed and undiagnosed mental health difficulties – both through Talent Match London, as well as through our network of member clubs – and we and the youth workers in those clubs meet many more who show early signs of having challenges they might need support with.

During the conversations I was struck by 2 things:

Firstly, young people told us they would have no idea where to go to access support for their mental health. These are young people who are already linked in to everything we provide and who through our programme have successfully moved into work or learning. Although we know of course that there are funding challenges for services, and that lots of organisations – MAC UK, Young Minds and many local groups – work hard to support young people,  it felt from our conversations that provision – or awareness of provision – is still patchy in many places. This is something we want to seek to address for the young Londoners we support – both within the Talent Match London programme, and across our wider network.

The second important thing they told us was that they’d find it hard to recognise when something they were experiencing was affecting their mental health, and that earlier education would have made a huge difference to them. This might be delivered through school or from within the youth and community settings where they meet trusted adults they respect and would feel more comfortable to explore what they see as stigmatised issues with huge potential for misunderstanding and fear.

So while it does certainly feel like there is a need for additional and more accessible services, for some young people maybe it matters as much that they are simply linked into people who do know where they can get support. People who they trust to talk to and have a strong relationship with. What I see when I look at our most integrated and successful Talent Match London delivery are predominantly interventions which improve mental health by developing young people’s confidence, resilience and networks. Young people are engaged in strong and self-directed peer mentoring and offering each other a supportive family-like environment as they progress. We might be delivering an employability programme, but as well as having found a job they want to keep, participants tell us they feel empowered, part of their communities and able to navigate their own journey through work. These outcomes are improving social and emotional capabilities and thus impacting mental health and wellbeing.

Both of these things chime very strongly with the feedback we have from youth workers in our member clubs. The other challenge they are finding is that there is a perception that criteria for young people to access specialist support from health and social care professionals seems to have become narrower as funding has been squeezed – leaving some young people at risk of not getting the help and guidance they need at the right time.

This is a challenging situation, and with pressure on funding the short term options are limited. But we know that in other parts of the country youth organisations are playing a more strategic role in the provision of mental health support for young people – in Devon, for instance, Young Devon have developed an innovative and well respected approach which is part of the local infrastructure of provision. So we’re looking to work with partner organisations and our members over the coming months to see what the best solutions are – through Talent Match London and across our network – so that we can begin to effectively meet the needs that young people are expressing. And we’ll continue to focus on working with our members and partners to deliver strong personal development outcomes for young people, so that they are supported to become more resilient and are better able to deal with some of the challenges life throws at them.