Recent NHS data shows that the referral rate for children with serious mental health problems has soared to over a million in 2021/22 – a rise of 39% from the previous year.
Analysis reveals the sheer breadth of maladies affecting the youth: from suicidal feelings; to bouts of psychosis; to self-harm and eating disorders; to severe depression and anxiety.
The direction of travel couldn’t be clearer. With the NHS on the verge of collapse, social services slashed, and parents reeling from the cost-of-living crisis, young people are bearing the brunt of all the uncertainty that capitalism brings.
The explanations for this silent epidemic that we hear in the mainstream media are routinely pitiful.
On the one hand, liberal commentators speak of social media ‘ruining a generation’, or point to the pandemic as the sole reason for this scourge.
On the other hand, the topic is approached with the most belittling, patronising tone from conservatives, who proclaim that the ‘snowflake generation’ is simply ‘too sensitive’ these days; that it is simply an individual – not a social – problem.
Both these camps are completely out of touch. The impact of the coronavirus crisis, alongside other factors, may well have added to mental health issues. But these problems have existed for some time.
As Tom Madders, director of campaigns at YoungMinds, explains, the cost-of-living crisis, academic pressure, etc., all exacerbate the very-real sense amongst young people that they face “limited prospects”.
And these are becoming sharper by the day. With less support at school, and a future of precarious, piecemeal work likely upon graduation, the destabilising effects on mental health are clear.
No amount of hand-wringing or myths can change the fact that the crisis of capitalism is increasingly reflected in the plummeting mental health of the youth.
The stressors behind worsening child mental health cannot be separated from the impacts of austerity.
With an underfunded NHS, overworked specialists, and most families unable to muster up the money for private therapy, those desperately crying out for help are increasingly left in the lurch.
Charity Mind has claimed that mental health budgets are at “breaking point”. This is the pernicious legacy of privatisation and outsourcing.
One young person is reported to have waited 1,512 days to be given support. Another child in Hampshire had to wait 1,113 days. These never-ending waiting lists often spell tragic consequences for those beset by poor mental health.
At the same time, mental health professionals themselves face burnout, decimating the capacity of services to deal with cases properly.
It is not just poverty, but the inequality baked into the system that significantly worsens mental health outcomes.
As research carried in the National Library of Medicine concludes: “Risk factors for many common mental disorders are heavily associated with social inequalities, whereby the greater the inequality the higher the inequality in risk.”
The pandemic shone a spotlight on the class divide in society. And now, with the bosses’ bonanza on one side, and ordinary families increasingly impoverished on the other, this divide is being turned into a chasm. Consequently, the situation is spiralling out of control.
Tory promises of more money for mental health are a mere sticking plaster. Instead, we need to fight for a root-and-branch transformation of society.
Workers are showing that they are not willing to put up with capitalism’s ‘new normal’. As Britain’s growing strike wave shows: teachers, nurses, ambulance workers, and university staff are all mobilising and fighting back against the corrosive effects of austerity, inflation, privatisation.
Workers in these jobs undoubtedly enter their professions with a desire to offer care and compassion. But their ability to provide support is impossible when overworked and underpaid.
As things stand, the kids aren’t alright. And the Tories’ ruinous agenda is only making matters worse.
The organised working class has the power to topple the Tories, however, and to put an end to the cuts and privatisation that are running services and facilities into the ground.
This must be linked to the struggle for socialism. Only by abolishing the chaos of capitalism and the anarchy of the profit system can we guarantee everyone a decent life and livelihood; eliminate the uncertainty and stresses that are destroying our mental health; and provide future generations with the support they deserve.