When was the last time you thought about mental health and young people? There is a major issue. As many as 1 in 10 children and young people have a clinically diagnosable mental health problem. The problems include depression, anxiety, and conduct disorders. The problems are often linked to what is happening in their lives.
Last month I attended the annual Civic Breakfast organized by Church Action on Poverty in Sheffield. The subject was the connection between mental health and poverty. Common mental health problems such as depression and anxiety are distributed according to a gradient of economic disadvantage across society. The less well off you are, the more likely you are to suffer from a range of common mental health problems.
The most striking statistic was that mental illness accounts for 25% of mortality and morbidity in Britain, but only 11% of the NHS budget is spent on these issues. We are not tackling this part of the problem. During the last parliament, funding for mental health services were cut by 8.25%.
It’s impossible to read the four gospels and not be aware of Jesus’ compassion for those who are suffering and his care for the whole person. In the first chapters of Mark, Jesus heals a man with an unclean spirit, a multitude in Galilee, someone declared unclean by his society, a man who is paralysed and full of guilt, another multitude by the lakeshore and a man with a withered hand. Read on further and you will find that Christ ministers to children and young people and the elderly with both physical and spiritual diseases. The gospels do not have our vocabulary for mental illness but it is impossible to read them and not find evidence of these conditions and of Jesus’ care for those who have them.
What can we do? Christians and Christian congregations can help by raising awareness of mental health issues, especially among the young. We can help by listening to one another. We can help by reducing any stigma around mental health so that people feel able to talk about the problems they may be facing. We can help by working to relieve poverty and suffering, both in acts of kindness and charity and in our campaigning for justice. We can help by offering our time and gifts through the Samaritans, to Mind, in local visiting and support for those in need.
As followers of Jesus Christ, let’s take care to be informed and compassionate and involved.