Young adults to NHS: this is how to improve mental health crisis support

They're helping us to identify things that need to change

The mental health of young adults is reaching crisis point due to pressures on NHS support.

This was the stark message from 18 to 25-year-olds to NHS professionals at a recent Porchlight conference.

It brought together young adults who've experienced a mental health crisis and mental health professionals (including members of the local NHS Integrated Care Board responsible for developing a plan for meeting the health needs of the population).

The event, run by our Young Adult Mental Health Participation Service, aimed to give professionals an understanding of the barriers young people face when trying to access support for their mental health.

There were talks, roundtable discussions and Q&A sessions.


Long waiting times, crisis situations not being recognised: the issues young people face

By hearing the experiences of more than 1,500 young adults (aged 18-25) in Kent and Medway, we have learned:

  • When young people experience a mental health issue, they're not receiving enough early intervention support to prevent things from worsening. Also, long waiting times are causing young people’s mental health to get worse.
  • As a result, things get more serious and they reach mental health crisis point.
  • This leads to A&E visits, referrals to specialist support and hospitalisation - all of which may have been avoided. A&E departments aren’t referring young people into mental health services even though they are sometimes approached by young people unsure where to go for help.
  • Some young people don't qualify for specialist support despite their mental health being in a very bad place, a result of them not saying the 'right' thing such as "I feel suicidal".
  • They often have to speak with several different support teams before they’re connected with one that’s right for them. This can be a lengthy process and having to tell their story multiple times can be re-traumatising.
  • Young people don't get enough say in the plans to help them manage their mental health. They often feel disempowered and stigmatised by mental health professionals, which stops them from using the services designed to support them.
  • There is stigma around personality disorders which can lead to young people not receiving support.

In their own words

Young adults who've experienced a mental health crisis shared their stories with other attendees. Many had faced long waits for help, leading to their mental health worsening. They called for earlier intervention and non-clinical spaces where young people feel comfortable talking about what they're going through.

We'd like to thank all the young adults who have bravely shared their stories with us.

"It was very powerful": the feedback from professionals

NHS Kent and Medway's children's mental health commissioner, Zena Watson, described the event as powerful. She adds: "It was excellent first-hand feedback for commissioners and service providers. The small group discussions also generated valuable insights into their services and some great ideas about addressing challenges they face."

Next steps

The conference was an important opportunity for the young adults to have their voices heard by the NHS and other professionals.

NHS commissioners told us that although some of the stories were difficult to hear, it was important that they were heard.

We will be presenting the NHS commissioners with everything we've learned about the barriers young people face when accessing mental health support. This information can be used them to drive change and shape mental health policy.

We'll continue working with the NHS and others to ensure young people get a say in designing and delivering of mental health support services.