I thank the Chairman, Deputies and Senators on behalf of the NYCI and the national youth health programme for the invitation to speak about youth mental health.
The council is the representative body for 51 national voluntary youth work organisations working with young people in every community in the country. We represent and support the interests of our member organisations and use our collective experience to act on issues that impact on young people.
The national youth health programme is a partnership between the council, the HSE and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs with a vision for Ireland to be a country where all young people can experience positive health and well-being.
As outlined in our submission, youth mental health is a specialist area of work for the health programme, working in partnership with the HSE, the youth sector, education and training boards, ETB, youth officers and numerous children and young people’s services committees, CYPSC, co-ordinators to facilitate training and aid in meeting the identified needs of young people.
The training programmes rolled out by national youth health programme include applied suicide intervention skills training, ASIST, MindOut 2.0, and the implementation of the health quality mark, HQM.
I do not want to quote pages of statistics because, in our submission, we have outlined many of them. However, I want to highlight some that illustrate what is affecting young people’s mental health. In 2015, the health programme conducted a rapid mental health needs assessment among youth work organisations to investigate the mental health needs of young people. The main issues identified were anxiety, stress and body image.
We have continued to work with the youth work sector to collect information on the mental health needs of young people. It is evident that many of the issues identified in 2015 are still relevant. However, additional issues and themes are emerging, which include the influence of social media; the influence and misuse of alcohol and drugs; societal expectations and pressures, including peer pressure; bullying; lack of skills, to include communication, resilience and self-awareness; and isolation and lack of support.
Young people are responding to these issues in a variety of ways. One coping mechanism is self-harm. Self-harming is becoming an increasingly prevalent issue among young people, especially young girls. Statistics are illustrating the increasing rates with one in every 132 young women aged 15 to 19 years presenting in hospitals with self-harming injuries. Youth workers working with these young people who are self-harming are also working, or have worked, with those who are attempting, have contemplated, or have died by suicide.
There is also evidence to suggest that media and entertainment industries are having an impact on young people in respect of self-harm. Recently, numerous studies have been published examining the impact and trends of the Netflix series, "13 Reasons Why", on the incidence of self-harm. These studies have found a correlation between an increase in the number of Google searches around suicide and also a 13% increase in suicides among 10 to 19 year olds. This has helped influence the World Health Organization, WHO, in updating its media guidelines on suicide in 2017.
Youth workers have stated that young people are presenting in youth organisations with extremely challenging behaviours. They indicated that some young people, and some young men in particular, find it difficult to express their emotions. The resulting frustration experienced by these young people can sometimes be expressed as anger and sometimes results in violent behaviour. In some instances, workers believed that this anger is connected to drug use.
Within the youth work sector, the needs and issues which have been identified above are addressed through the delivery and implementation of the programmes that the health programme currently delivers. Within our submission, we have outlined the different programmes that we run and they are all aligned to national policy and strategies. However, continuous awareness and support are needed.
The youth council has a number of recommendations, which I will set out. We recommend an increase in funding and resources for the youth work sector. The 2016 census indicates that the number of young people aged between ten to 24 will have increased by 13.2% between 2015 and 2025 to just over 1 million. This will make Ireland the only European country with a growing population. With our growing youth population, investment in universal youth services is more important than ever. However, this has not been recognised by the Government, with current investment still at 17% below the level of investment in 2008. While overall Government expenditure has increased by 12% since 2011, youth work services funding has only increased by 0.3%.
The council recommends more accessible, youth friendly counselling services. Youth workers have highlighted the challenges for young people trying to access services, including long waiting lists, lack of public transport and the appropriateness of the service for that young person, if that young person is even deemed suitable for a successful referral. These issues are hugely challenging for young people, especially for those in crisis. Some youth services have accessed funding to provide youth friendly counselling. This funding should be increased to enable more youth services to provide counselling and therapy and to expand current service provision.
The council recommends support for young people to build their skill sets and confidence to cope, not only with their own mental health concerns, but also to support their peers, where appropriate. For example, while ASIST training is available to youth workers and others working with young people and provides a framework to support someone with suicidal ideation, there is a gap in supporting the young person in building their own capacity to support their peers. This support system could be developed either an online tool, or as a training programme, which could be accessed directly by them.
It is important also to investigate initiatives in other countries such as those New Zealand and Australia have in place. One example is #ChatSafe, which is a young person's guide for communicating safely online about suicide. This initiative would complement SpunOut.ie's crisis line and texting services. The initiative has been developed in partnership with young people to provide support for those who might be responding to suicide-related content posted by others or for those who require support in respect of their own experiences about suicidal thoughts, feeling or behaviours. More training and information is needed to support those working with young people especially in dealing with challenging behaviours, self-harm, trauma informed practice and adverse childhood experiences.
I will conclude by reading a quote from a youth worker that illustrates the importance to young people of youth work, youth workers and the relationships involved:
Youth Workers are often the first port of call when a young person is in crises, especially because of the relationship they have with the worker. Youth Workers should not have to wing it when they find themselves in this situation. Mental wellbeing with young people can be complex, but clear training as to how to respond, whether the issue is mild, moderate or very serious. This will support the young person.
I thank the committee.