I am acutely aware that maintaining good mental health – and having accessible and high-quality mental health support – is a priority for so many young people in Bristol West. As young people in school, university, and in the early stages of their working life, navigate ever-more complex pressures, it is vital that we invest and support mental health support services that can help promote positive mental health and – so often – save lives. This is an issue that many of you have expressed concerns to me about – and I believe that protecting and supporting young people’s mental health is a key issue both in education, in our health service, and in local government.
I’m proud that there are many organisations in Bristol West that prioritise good mental health and support young people. Last week I was delighted to visit Off the Record’s headquarters on West Street. Off the Record (OTR) is a charity that supports, promotes and defends the mental health, rights and status of young people in the Bristol area. I heard from a number of young people and staff members about the brilliant work that OTR does, and I came away with lots of suggestions about how I can help tackle the causes of poor mental health in young people as the Member of Parliament.
One important theme that came up was young people’s need for spaces where they can be themselves, listened to, understood, and empowered. The young people I spoke to felt that the projects offered by OTR do this, but I know that cuts to schools, youth services, local government and more have removed a lot of these spaces. Youth clubs or afterschool activities not only provide a sense of community, but they are also crucial in giving young people a way to talk to adults, outside of a classroom, who will be able to signpost or refer them to further support before their problems become overwhelming.
I was particularly pleased to see how Off the Record involve and work with young people to craft their services. In a time when climate change, Brexit, and our political climate can leave many of us feeling powerless there is something empowering about being able to help shape young people’s mental health support in the city.
We also talked about the barriers to support. There are a lack of services for people in-between coping well and crisis point, those services that do exist often have a lengthy waiting list meaning that problems may get worse whilst waiting. We also talked about cultural barriers to seeking support to do with gender, language, race, culture or a combination of the above. There is also difficulty in the transition from services for children and young people to services for adults.
Lots of these problems need political solutions, and I will continue to call on the government to invest in services that are sensitive to the diverse needs of those seeking mental health support. Organisations like Off the Record do amazing work, but government cuts to funding make it so much harder to create effective and sustainable interventions and support services.
There is much that I can do here in Bristol, too. I am particularly excited to be working with OTR to hold a surgery for young people in the coming months. In the meantime, you can find more information about Off the Record and their services here. Thank you to all the staff and young people who took the time to welcome me and raise concerns with me – I’m looking forward to taking your ideas to parliament and working with you to make sure I continue to give voice to the concerns of young people in Bristol.