Mental health is the number one health concern for young people in Ireland. This may be related to the intensity and vulnerability of youth, says Dr Tony Bates, of youth organisation Jigsaw, in our latest edition of Working Notes.
Without the knowledge to express what they feel, young people’s distress becomes enacted in symptoms and risky behaviours. Even with someone to talk to, they may find it hard to open up for the fear of judgement or of having their deepest suspicion about themselves – that there is something fundamentally ‘messed up’ about them – confirmed. Dr Bates emphasises the importance of the provision of adequate mental health services and support for young adults, so that they can flourish.
Despite the evidence that adolescence is the most vulnerable time when it comes to mental health, Ireland’s mental health system is weakest where it needs to be strongest. Young people and their families in need of emotional support reported that they need ‘somewhere to turn to, someone to talk to’ but that their options to do so are few and far between.
The absence of safe accessible support can lead to a mental health crisis becoming compounded by dropping out of education, social withdrawal, reckless behaviour and a growing sense of helplessness and despair.
Where services are available, the challenge for young adults and their families is how to access them. The system is fraught with complex referral pathways, long waiting lists, fees, and very few after-hour options.
Jigsaw is a mental health organisation for young people that is currently operating in thirteen communities across Ireland. Its services are a step in the right direction, but there is still a long way to go if we want to strategically improve the mental health of young people in this country, particularly for those who are marginalised.
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