Mental ill-health - Sweet But Psycho single by Ava Max

We are what we eat. That is the simple truth that has launched a thousand cookbooks. Eat unhealthily, expect to be unhealthy. Slowly we are starting to realise that the same applies to our minds and mental ill-health. We are what we consume and what we consume nowadays is social media, films, streamed boxsets, the occasional book and of course music.

What do trends in pop music say about our attitude to mental ill-health?


Determining what is ‘hip’ in the music world (or whatever the new word for hip is) has long been the preserve of the young. Now that the UK Top 40 is decided by streams and downloads it is absolutely the domain of millennials and generation Z.

If what we consume is a true reflection of who we are and what we believe, then the most recent UK number 1 hit single serves as a warning. Particularly for organisations like The Spark that are trying to change attitudes to mental ill-health and help future generations.

‘Sweet but psycho’: the UK’s favourite song


For most of January, the UK’s number 1 single was an infuriatingly catchy pop song by Ava Max called ‘Sweet but Psycho’. Aside from the stigmatic language of the title, the narrative of the song makes for rather depressing listening if you are, like us, working to change society’s attitudes to mental ill-health.

Mental ill-health - Sweet But Psycho single by Ava Max

This is a tale of a young woman who is labelled a ‘psycho’ according to those around her and centres on the can I/should I conundrum facing her lover. It is a desperately damaging perspective on relationships; championing that the sexual promise of the encounter is the primary consideration and little else about the relationship matters.  Indeed the song debates whether potential sexual satisfaction is enough to outweigh the attendant ‘baggage’ of her being a ‘psycho’.

To say the lyrics somewhat trivialise mental ill-health is an understatement. Hoping for some form of alternative explanation I did a bit of research into the origins of the song.

Trivialising mental ill-health?


In an interview with website Idolator, singer Ava Max offered this insight which left me feeling rather despondent: “she’s a girl who’s misunderstood in the relationship, and she’s basically being told she’s psycho and she’s out of her mind when she’s feeling it, but really she’s an outspoken girl and she’s speaking her mind.”

According to the artist, the message to young girls and women is clear:  if you choose to be outspoken or speak your mind expect to be branded a psycho, but hey, that’s ok. Nothing in the song suggests it is really about empowering women or fighting back against misogynistic use of terms like ‘psycho’ to describe women who are not compliant to the wishes of men. Quite the opposite; it implies that being perceived as sexy or promiscuous matters more and the label ‘psycho’ is almost something to be proud of.

At a time when we know how fragile the mental health of young women can be – from the pressures of social media perfection to early sexualisation – this feels like entirely the wrong kind of message.

Breaking news: old person gets wrong idea about number 1 hit single


Am I sounding like an old prude? Quite possibly. Seeing a risk where it doesn’t exist? Maybe.

Older generations have always feared what the young enjoy, listen to and consume. As Grandpa Simpson explained to Homer: “I used to be with ‘it’ but then they changed what ‘it’ was. Now what I’m with isn’t ‘it’, and what’s ‘it’ seems weird and scary to me. It’ll happen to you!”

Taking a different tact for a moment, pop music is littered with songs that possessed a subtle, more complex meaning. By way of a defence of millennials and generation Z, how many of their grand-parents bought The Eagles ‘Hotel California’ without knowing it was really about the hedonistic, drug-fuelled lifestyle of the band? A fair few of their parents sang along to the Boomtown Rats’ ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’ without knowing it was inspired by a deadly US elementary school shooting.

‘Sweet but psycho’ however is no Hotel California and the message is certainly not ambiguous. If we allow society at large to feed the minds of younger generations with such messages is it any surprise they are struggling? It should come as no surprise that youth mental ill-health is often characterised as an ‘epidemic’.

What can we do in the battle for good mental health?


Progress has been made in dragging mental health out of the shadows. We are steadily embracing its significance and the importance of breaking down stigmas, providing support and getting discussions out into the open. But there is much work still to be done.

Collectively we must provide alternative, strong voices valuing mental health and advocating healthy and mutually respectful relationships. Voices that de-stigmatise mental ill-health and champion the cause of those coping with it right now.

But perhaps most of all, we need strong voices that make clear that mental ill-health can happen to anyone and is not something to be celebrated or trivialised.


Struggling with mental ill-health?

The Spark has been providing counselling for individuals, couples, families and children for over 50 years. We offer a safe, private place to work through the issues that are causing you distress and unhappiness like relationship problems, depression, anxiety, stress or family conflict.

Find out more about our counselling services for individuals, couples, families and children or call us on freephone 0808 802 0050 to discuss how counselling could help you.

happy teenagers talking together

Recently The Spark was delighted to attend NHS Health Scotland’s conference on improving the mental wellbeing of children and young people. The event covered a wide range of key topics on the subject of youth mental health.

Led by Shirley Windsor, the head of Public Mental Health at NHS Scotland, it was one in a series aimed at contributing to the Scottish Government’s ambitious 10-year Mental Health Strategy. Senior Health Improvement Officer Carly Grant provided an overview of the strategy.

Making better use of cross-sector mental health support services


Though still in development, a number of important themes emerged. In particular, the importance of involving young people in the design and delivery of mental health services for their own age group.

partnership working in action

An integral part of those discussions  can better work together. Representatives from each discussed how barriers between delivery organisations can be overcome at a community level. A critical issue as we seek to make better use of the wide range of support services in those sectors.

The value of ‘trusted adults’ in the lives of children and young people


Dr Ross Whitehead presented early findings from his review of the value of the presence of ‘trusted adults’ in the lives of adolescents. Indications are that such relationships can be very positive, particularly where the quality of the relationship is high.

Ross pointed to the UK Home Office’s ‘Trusted Relationships Fund’ which is exploring the protective effect of trusted relationships on vulnerable young people.

Josh Shipp has an interesting take on the power of one caring adult in an adult/young person relationship. Josh himself is an illustration of the early findings of Dr Whitehead’s research.

A life turned around by a ‘trusted adult’


Josh was abandoned by his parents and spent his early life in and out of different care settings. In trouble with the police, there was one particular foster parent who became the caring adult that made a difference to Josh’s life.

The turning point came when the foster parent said: “We don’t see you as the problem, we see you as an opportunity.” Prompted by this intervention to turn his life around, Josh now spends his time encouraging adults to be a positive influence on the teens in their lives.

Playing a leading role in working for children and young people


At The Spark we will continue to play a leading role in the development and delivery of mental health provision for children and young people. Both at a strategic level as contributors to policy and at a practical level as a provider of counselling for children and young people.

As the biggest supplier of school-based counselling nationally we look forward to making a continuing contribution to this vital agenda.

Counselling and support services for children & young people


The Spark is the largest provider of professional, school-based counselling services in Scotland. In addition, we provide mental health training for teachers, school support staff and further education institutions.

We also play a key role in offering counselling to students and young people.

Find out more information about The Spark and our counselling services for schools, individuals and couples.

Contact us via our enquiry form or freephone 0808 802 0050 to talk about how counselling could help you.

student counselling graduation ceremony

As universities and colleges prepare for the start of the new term, one major talking point continues to dominate the headlines: mental health support for students.

Prior to the summer break, research laid bare the extent of the challenges facing further education institutions in their attempts to provide adequate student counselling services.

A ‘perfect storm’ of issues drive high demand for student counselling


Universities and colleges face a perfect storm of factors which have contributed to an overwhelming demand for on-campus student counselling and support services.

In our experience, substance issues, addiction, depression and financial worries are the problems students typically have to deal with at university or college. Relationships are also a significant concern. University or college is often when individuals establish their first significant and emotionally important relationships.

student counselling

The complex challenges facing students


Now, however, additional pressures on students are creating overwhelming demand. Which in turn is putting the resources of education establishments under serious strain.

Difficult labour market conditions mean students are increasingly competing for a limited number of graduate placements. This is further compounded by budget squeezes across the board for universities, colleges and students themselves.

The net result: student counselling and support services are struggling to cope.

Short-term solutions needed for student counselling


A particularly troubling statistic has been the increase in student suicides. Between 2007 and 2016 student suicides increased by a staggering 56%. Students are now more likely to take their own lives than young people in the general population.

Combined with the challenges NHS trusts are facing in coping with rising demand across the board for mental health support, alternative short-term solutions for student counselling are needed.

Making better use of the third sector


A number of universities, however, are recognising the importance of providing students with secondary sources of support. Institutions including Strathclyde University and Aberdeen University are signposting students to external services such as The Spark for student counselling and mental health support.

Third sector providers like The Spark are well-placed to support universities and colleges in the provision of mental health services. With extensive geographical reach – The Spark has locations in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeenshire, Ayrshire and Stirling – these organisations can complement existing on-campus student counselling services.

student counselling graduation ceremony

Collaboration between the third sector and further education is now essential


In many instances, the expertise of third sector providers is an ideal match for the challenges students face. Beyond the typical stress of exams and deadlines, students now need to handle a more diverse range of issues than ever before.

Longer term more must be done by universities and colleges to expand on-campus student counselling services. However in the short-term, external providers such as The Spark offer effective, complementary mental health services.

Counselling and support services for students


The Spark has counselling centres across Scotland and many are located close to the country’s leading universities and colleges. Offering counselling to individuals and couples, our counsellors are experienced in supporting students and young people.

Find out more information about The Spark and our counselling services for individuals and couples.

Contact us via our enquiry form or freephone 0808 802 0050 to talk about how counselling could help you.

spend time with people to be happy

We continue our series of Q&A sessions with members of The Spark team with part 2 of our chat with Jen Graham, Education Services Director.

Catch up with part 1 or dive in to part 2 as we learn more about how The Spark is equipping teachers to improve the emotional and mental wellbeing of pupils.

Plus why we only use experienced counsellors to deliver school based counselling.

Q. How is The Spark supporting teachers and other school staff improve the emotional and mental wellbeing of pupils?


Teachers have such a positive role to play in the lives of children.

It’s fundamentally important that they are provided with opportunities to improve their knowledge, understanding and skills to support pupils most effectively.

parenting teenagers

That’s why we offer Scottish Mental Health First Aid for Young People and Relationship First Aid for Teachers as continuous professional development options.

From these, we’ve seen an increasing confidence in Teachers understanding of mental health, in how relationships are impacted by attachment, and in the skills required to offer the most effective first response support.

Q. Some youth counselling providers place trainee counsellors in schools. Why has The Spark chosen to only use fully-qualified practitioners?


We understand that for many organisations, utilising trainee counsellors is their preferred model.

However, for us, there is nothing more important than ensuring children receive professional support from a fully qualified, professional counsellor.

We don’t deploy trainees or volunteers in schools. We manage to balance the costs of this and still make our services affordable for schools.

Q. The Spark has become Scotland’s biggest provider of school-based counselling. Is there further expansion in the pipeline?


We have experienced significant growth over the last 18 months but it is built upon 10 years’ experience of working with schools. So we’re not a new kid on the block!

It’s our intention to continue this growth to ensure children have access to the best school based counselling service. That requires all CYP counselling agencies in Scotland to play their part.

Ultimately we all want to reduce the pressure on CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services).

Collectively we can ensure that emotional and mental wellbeing is considered fundamental to every pupil’s readiness to learn.


Take a look at our Children and Young People content for more information about:

school counselling deputy first minister John Swinney

In the latest of our Q&A sessions we took some time out to speak to Jen Graham, The Spark’s Education Services Director about school based counselling.

Jen heads up our team of children and young people (CYP) counsellors and trainers. Across Scotland they are supporting over 5,000 pupils, their teachers and families this academic year.

Find out why schools are turning to The Spark for support, the issues our counsellors help children with and the real benefits of school based counselling.

Q. Jen, why are many schools in Scotland choosing to host their own school based counsellors?

“Schools recognise that when pupils are struggling with their emotional and mental wellbeing, they’re not in the best place to learn.

Specialist services such as ours give pupils a confidential space to explore their worries and concerns with a trusted professional.”

Kids learning

“Head Teachers and class teachers recognise the importance of health and wellbeing for pupils. It makes a fundamental contribution to help raising attainment in the class room.”

Q. Are the issues pupils are struggling with in school common across the board?

“The range of issues pupils are referred with are wide ranging and often complex.

Our CYP counsellors can be handling attachment issues, anger and aggression, parental separation, loss, trauma and abuse. Unfortunately we often work with pupils who have had multiple Adverse Childhood Experience’s (ACEs).”

Q. There has been a lot of mention in the media recently about ‘early intervention’ approaches. Is that something The Spark looks to achieve?

“Absolutely. That always has been and continues to be one of our founding principles.

In an ideal world our therapeutic services would be available to pupils as soon as they need support. Not just when an issue has become something more serious. This is why we operate school based counselling from Primary 1 right up to S6 in Scottish schools.

It is of course not always possible to take this approach. But with the creation of the Scottish Government’s Pupil Equity Funding (PEF), more schools have been able to take an early intervention approach.”

Q. You mentioned PEF funding as a way schools have been able to improve mental health. How much of a positive impact has PEF funding had?

“The Spark has worked in schools for many years but the landscape has changed massively in the last 18 months.

In the past, schools didn’t have the budget to address the needs they could see were there. School based counselling was therefore largely reliant on grant funding.  But all that’s changed with PEF.”

school counselling deputy first minister John Swinney
Members of The Spark’s CYP team discuss the impact of school based counselling with Deputy First Minister, John Swinney MSP.

“We can now engage with Head Teachers and local authorities directly when the emotional and mental wellbeing of pupils is considered a priority. With over a decade of experience in this area we have refined our model to one that schools know is effective.

Not all schools need to provide additional support for the emotional and mental wellbeing of their pupils. For those that do, The Spark has a bank of highly experienced, fully-qualified CYP counsellors ready to go into schools.”

Q. How do The Spark’s CYP counsellors integrate into a new school? Does it take long for them to gain the trust of pupils and teachers?

“By working in schools every week, our CYP counsellors become part of the school team. They operate in partnership with teachers and support staff to get a real understanding of the school and its pupils.

Sometimes that’s just one day per week but increasingly there’s a greater need. Many schools have increased their services to 3 or 4 days per week, every week of the academic year.

When it comes to pupils, our aim is to normalise speaking to a counsellor about your emotions and wellbeing. By getting closely involved in pupil assemblies, parents presentations and teachers meetings, we do whatever is needed to show the whole school community that we’re there to support them.”

Q. What outcomes are schools seeing as a result of school based counselling?

“The benefits to schools and individual children and young people vary as much as the difficulties they come with.

At times the changes are small improvements in self-esteem or confidence. In other cases there we will see a significant impact upon attendance/timekeeping and behaviour. Ongoing evaluations and assessments mean we can continuously monitor the progress made by pupils.”

relationship education evaluation
Related article: Evaluation of school based counselling for Clackmannanshire Council

“Feedback from parents is an important aspect of our work. Youth counselling is at its most effective when we are able to work collaboratively with families and teaching staff. In fact we’re told of happier, more communicative children at home by parents regularly.

This positive feedback often spreads to surrounding schools who then decide to work with us. As a charity this is a real positive as it helps us realise our ambition of helping as many children and young people as we can in Scotland.”


In part 2 of our interview we talk about how the The Spark is equipping teachers to improve the emotional and mental wellbeing of pupils, and why the organisation only uses fully-qualified, experienced counsellors to deliver school based counselling.

Take a look at our Children and Young People content for more information about school based counselling, education programmes and training/support for teachers.

CAMHS

Data released last month again highlighted the scale of the challenge Scotland faces as it seeks to improve youth mental health.

Waiting times for young people to be assessed by their local Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) grabbed the headlines once more.

In some regions over 80% of referrals are seen within the Government’s stated 18 week limit for referrals. However in many it is as low as just 20%.

CAMHS youth mental health

The data also highlighted the number of ‘rejections’ within each NHS board area. These are the children and young people deemed unsuitable for support through the current system.

CAMHS services are not the problem


The current model of treatment was intended to route all forms of mental health issue – low and high tariff cases – to CAMHS. However in reality CAMHS is now restricted – by various factors – to helping the most vulnerable young people.

Even the terminology – rejections – implies CAMHS services are not interested in helping. The truth is they simply cannot.

And this rather than the headline grabbing statistics on waiting times and rejection rates is where solutions to the problem lie.

What needs to change?


As Scotland’s largest provider of school-based counselling services, The Spark is well placed to understand the realities of the current youth mental health system.

CAMHS self-harm unhappy teenager

The present model – which allows personal issues to escalate into full-blown mental health problems before children are seen by a professional – needs to be turned on its head.

50% of all diagnosable mental health issues in children begin before they reach the age of 14. Scotland therefore needs to break new ground by focusing on prevention first and foremost.

Making early-intervention a priority


Taking an early intervention approach – as The Spark does with our school-based counselling and education programmes – offers a more efficient and effective solution. By focusing on preventing minor issues from becoming major problems we can achieve a step-change in how we tackle youth mental health.

Expanding the current model of youth mental health care


The current model of care is based on a restrictive set of options for young people struggling with mental health issues. Through the NHS model – irrespective of severity – a young person attends their GP and if they cannot resolve the issue the final step is a CAMHS referral.

This ignores the highly skilled youth mental health practitioners’ operating out with NHS infrastructure. Directing young people to third sector providers like The Spark could provide a more inclusive approach.

For those who do not meet criteria for CAMHS support, third sector providers could offer an effective alternative. Thus reducing pressure on CAMHS services and cutting waiting times/rejection rates without the need for huge investment.

Utilising the third sector in support of CAMHS


To achieve this there needs to be better understanding of available services for those on the frontline. GPs, parents, carers, CAMHS themselves need to be equipped with better knowledge of the services available.

CAMHS youth mental health new direction

And more importantly they need to be given permission to signpost and recommend services that sit outside the NHS infrastructure.

Time to move on from the NHS-only model


We owe it to current and future generations of young people to get a better system in place. In order to do so we must no longer be slavish to the old ‘NHS-only’ models of provision.

Joining up services from both the public and third sectors can fill the gaps in the current model. CAMHS should still have a vital role to play but alongside additional support services.

Indeed this something specifically referred to in the Scottish Government’s own 2017-2027 mental health strategy.

Using the skills and expertise available Scotland can create a more comprehensive and inclusive approach to youth mental health.


School based counselling, education programmes and support

The Spark is Scotland’s largest supplier of school based counselling and support services.

Our specialist Children and Young People counsellors are embedded within the school community, working in partnership with teachers, support staff and families.

Find out more about our school based counselling for Primary and Secondary schools and our dedicated training for teachers.

If your child has been rejected by CAMHS, we may be able to support them with youth counselling. To find out more make an enquiry online or freephone 0808 802 0050.

youth mental health

Research published this month revealed 66% of staff in Scottish schools feel ill-equipped to help pupils with youth mental health problems. Commissioned by the Scottish Association for Mental Health, the survey highlighted the need to properly train teachers and support workers.

youth mental health

Mental Health training for teachers


Working in partnership with schools and local authorities, here at The Spark we are actively addressing that skills gap.

Through our Scottish Mental Health First Aid for Young People (SMHFA-YP) and Relationship First Aid for Teachers (RFA) courses we are equipping teachers and support staff to spot the early signs of mental distress in children.

The Spark’s training provides staff in schools with a better understanding of youth mental health issues and how to signpost families to suitable, professional support.

Many schools are now investing their Scottish Government Pupil Equity Funding (PEF) in these programmes.

Teacher training is available right now


Rolling out the SMHFA-YP and RFA courses to all schools in Scotland could bridge the current skills gap. Both programmes are proven to deliver improved outcomes for pupils, school staff and families.

youth mental health

Importantly this training is readily available to schools and local authorities right now. Meaning it can be implemented almost immediately – a significant advantage over the time-consuming and costly process of commissioning new training.

First responders


Whilst suitable training for teachers and school support staff is vital, it is not enough to simply train education professionals in mental health first aid.

The role of teachers and school support staff in the drive for better youth mental health must be very specific. Within the context of a comprehensive, nationwide strategy they must be considered as first responders.

youth mental health

Youth mental health support pathways


Training – through programmes like our Relationship First Aid for Teachers – can and should be used to develop a community of first responders within our schools.

From there suitable pathways to refer pupils and their families to professional support need to be in place.

School based counselling


It is optimal for school staff to work alongside and not in place of professional mental health experts. Teachers are best placed to pinpoint changes in behaviour that might highlight underlying issues that could benefit from counselling and specialist support.

The provision of school based counsellors allows pupils to be referred for support within their own environment. With minimal administration pupils can receive help within a matter of days.

Clearly defined pathways allows to focus on teaching and local Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) to concentrate on the most complex referrals.

A comprehensive approach to youth mental health


The Spark has helped schools and local authorities make a genuine positive impact on the mental health of children and young people. Our commitment to this work will see us support over 5,000 school pupils this academic year. This will be achieved through school based counselling and education programmes.

youth mental health school pupils

Rolling out a comprehensive training programme for teachers and support staff in Scotland’s schools would be a worthwhile objective. To be effective however it must be matched with a similar commitment to placing professional youth counsellors in schools.

By training teachers and support staff as first responders, providing suitable referral pathways and embedding counsellors in schools Scotland can lead the way in improving youth mental health.

School based counselling, education programmes and support


The Spark is Scotland’s largest supplier of school based counselling and support services.

Our specialist Children and Young People counsellors are embedded within the school community, working in partnership with teachers, support staff and families.

Find out more about our school based counselling for Primary and Secondary schools and our dedicated training for teachers.

youth mental health

Scotland, like the rest of the UK, faces a crisis in youth mental health.

Studies and reports detailing the mental health issues faced by children and adolescents are regularly making the news headlines. The existing NHS-provided child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) are under severe pressure which has led to extensive waiting times.

A consultation on youth mental health services in Scotland


The recent announcement of a consultation on youth mental health services by the Scottish Government and the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH) represents a cause for optimism.

Young people and their families/carers will be consulted on what does and does not work. With the intention to use this feedback to restructure the current system.

Radical overhaul is needed


This project represents an important step forward.  For too long the status quo in youth mental health has been deemed fit for purpose.

Similarly the views of the young people using those services have been underrepresented.

With some 17,500 young people referred to CAMHS in the past three years not receiving any support, it is clear a radical overhaul is needed.

What about the young people still waiting for support?


Undoubtedly the insight from the consultation will be invaluable in reshaping youth mental health provision in Scotland. However important and valuable those conclusions may be, they will be small comfort to the thousands of young people currently struggling unsupported with mental health problems.

Particularly when we consider that a number of potential sources of additional support exist right now to tackle these challenges.

Too many young people, not enough appointments


Demand for CAMHS services outstrips the available resources in most of Scotland’s NHS board areas. This leaves many young people to wait anywhere between 18 and 50 weeks for an appointment with a specialist.

The tragedy of this scenario is that third sector organisations like The Spark could support NHS services.

Providing more youth mental health services to meet demand


With professional Children and Young People Counsellors employed by third sector organisations, issues like anxiety and depression could be supported out with CAMHS.

By providing much needed additional resources waiting times could be reduced. Over-stretched CAMHS services could then be focused on those young people with the most complex and challenging issues.

An out of date attitude to youth mental health


Young people are referred to CAMHS for assessment and diagnosis of a mental health problem. Support is, therefore, focused on treating young people once a problem is established. This approach is outdated.

Half of all diagnosable mental health problems in children start before the age of 14.

Furthermore 10% of children aged between 5 and 16 have a clinically diagnosable mental health problem.

Adopting an early intervention approach


An early intervention approach offers a more effective solution by working to prevent minor issues escalating. Third sector organisations like The Spark are leading proponents of early intervention approaches for youth mental health.

Child crying youth mental health

Firstly through school based counselling we are supporting children to deal with life challenges that can escalate in to more serious issues. Secondly we are able to foster life skills like resilience and emotional regulation amongst children in order to deal with the challenges of growing up.

Indeed evaluation of The Spark’s school-based counselling has demonstrated the significant impact early intervention can make on the mental health of young people.

Furthermore the Scottish Government’s Mental Health Strategy (2017-2027) sets out a commitment to review counselling services in schools.

Equipping teachers to tackle youth mental health challenges


Pressure on CAMHS services has resulted in additional responsibilities falling to school teachers. Yet Scottish teachers feel underequipped to provide an initial source of mental health support to young people.

Where school-based counselling provision is not possible, The Spark provides dedicated training courses for teaching staff.

Dedicated training for teachers


Our Relationship First Aid for Teachers and Scottish Mental Health First Aid courses can equip teachers with the skills and knowledge to provide first responder support.

A long-term step in the right direction


The commitment to consult with young people in shaping future policy on mental health services is to be applauded.

Here at The Spark we stand ready to support both the Scottish Government and SAMH however we can.

In the interim however we must use the resources at our disposal to help those young people currently suffering mental health problems.

youth mental health

Despite increased investment the NHS is struggling to cope with the demand for youth mental health support.

Recent data indicates half of Scotland’s 14 health boards missed waiting time targets for young people with mental health issues. This comes following the addition of a further £150m in funding for mental health services in Scotland.

The Scottish Government is leading the way in tackling issues of mental health, despite these statistics.

For the first time in the Scottish Parliament’s history a dedicated Minister for Mental Health has been appointed.

The Government is also committed to providing children and young people with the ‘best start in life’. Youth mental health is a fundamental component of that ambition.

But can the NHS alone be expected to support the rising demand for youth mental health support services?

Sad teenager - youth mental health

A growing youth mental health epidemic

NHS health boards aim to have 90% of patients attending mental health support services within 18 weeks. The percentage of patients with youth mental health issues within this target was as low as 22-28% in some areas.

Putting the matter of targets to one side, a period of 18 weeks to wait for support is worrying enough. Waiting over 4 months for specialist support for issues like anxiety, stress, bullying, depression and eating disorders must feel like an eternity.

This is compounded by spending on mental health by the NHS – in general and not specifically for youth mental health – equating to only 0.5% of total spend.

Worryingly this comes against a backdrop of mental health issues, particularly among the young, increasing.

Recent research concluded that the UK faces a ‘slow growing epidemic’ of youth mental health issues. Cases of youth mental illness are increasing as is the complexity of the issues to be dealt with.

New issues like cyber-bullying and body shaming simply add to the familiar problems of family breakdown, substance abuse, anxiety, stress and depression.

Youth mental health support in the third sector

Sad teenage girl - youth mental health
Youth mental health is an area that deserves particular focus.

Third sector organisations like The Spark can provide significant additional resources and support in tackling youth mental health issues.

We provide youth counselling services which are available to all young people, irrespective of whether they are on an NHS waiting list or not.

Youth counselling with The Spark provides an alternative to the, at times, lengthy waiting times for counselling.

The Spark is proud of its role supporting the primary work of the NHS in treating those with mental health issues. However dealing with the problems young people face before they become mental illness offers a better solution for Scotland.

Early intervention

Half of all diagnosable mental health problems start before the age of 14. Nearly three-quarters of all cases have started by the age of 21.

Tackling these issues once youths have developed in to adults represents a more significant burden on the NHS than if they were dealt with in early years.

The Spark’s Children and Young People Team develop and deliver a range of school-age early intervention programmes including school based counselling.

By addressing the emotional and mental health of children in early years, our programmes provide a more effective solution: tackling mental health issues before they start.

Recent UK studies demonstrated that between 10% and 16% of children need mental health support in school. Furthermore issues relating to family, anger, bereavement and relationships can be impacting upon children when a specific mental illness is not present.

Scotland’s plans for youth mental health will require more investment, tailored programmes and readily accessible counselling support. Partnership working between the public and third sectors should figure heavily in them.


Youth counselling

For more information and to book an appointment, freephone 0808 802 0050 or complete an enquiry form.

School based counselling and early intervention programmes

To find out more about school based counselling and the work of The Spark’s Children and Young People Team and our early intervention programmes, contact the team on 0141 222 2166.

Youth mental health First Aid Training

We provide Mental Health First Aid Training specifically for individuals dealing with children and young people. Visit our Professionals section for more information and to book.

tips for new parents

Most mental health work in the UK focuses on reacting to problems once they have arisen. By contrast infant mental health initiatives look at the foundations of our relationships – our earliest years of infancy. By taking a ‘best start’ in life philosophy, it is possible to prevent mental health issues arising later in life when the cost to the individual, their family and society in general is much more significant.

Infant Mental Health Awareness Week 2016

The charity Parent Infant Partnership (PIP) UK and several parenting and children’s organisations are joining together to launch the UK’s first national Infant Mental Health Awareness Week from 6-10 June 2016. As promoters of early intervention and early years relationship education, The Spark is working with partners to create practical opportunities for creating strong infant mental health and emotional wellbeing.

Infant mental healthFollowing birth the subsequent 18 months of a child’s growth and development are astonishing in both their speed and importance. It has been calculated that connections in the brain are created at around a rate of a million per second during this period (source: PIP). As a result the earliest experiences for a child shape their brain development, and have a significant impact on their mental and emotional health.

“New scientific advances are showing the crucial importance of foundation years as a springboard for neuro-cognitive development, life-long health and well-being and socioeconomic success.” National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, Harvard University

A choice in mental health investment

Investing in infant mental health is beginning to be viewed as a logical and valuable alternative to the status quo. We can continue to wait until mental health problems in older children and adults emerge, and deal with them at that point. The consequences and costs to the individuals, their families, schools/workplaces and society in general are massive with the NHS alone spending billions each year on mental health treatment.

The alternative is to recognise that the foundations of our mental health are set during infancy and use that period to build healthy and strong relationships between children and their parents. By reducing the risk of mental health issues developing in later life from poor early years relationships, there is great scope to achieve a step change in mental health care.

Statistics on infant mental health*

Infant Mental Health
One of The Spark’s resources for infant health & wellbeing.
  • 1 in 10 children require support or treatment for mental health problems.
  • Failure to fully address mental health problems in pregnancy and following childbirth costs over £8 billion for each one year cohort of births. Nearly three-quarters (72%) of this cost relates to adverse impacts on the child rather than the mother.
  • 26% of babies in the UK have a parent affected by domestic violence, mental health or substance misuse.
  • 36% of serious case reviews into deaths or serious abuse involve a child under the age of one.

*Source: PIP

For more information on Infant Mental Health Awareness Week visit the website or join the conversation on twitter using the hashtag #IMHAW16

Parent Infant Partnership (PIP) UK is an umbrella organisation for a growing network of Infant Mental Health services across the UK which work with vulnerable families, to enable secure attachment and healthy early relationships for babies, toddlers and parents.

For tips on bonding with your baby in early years, read our Top Tips for Bonding with Baby.

Find out more about The Spark Counselling or search for your local Spark counselling centre: