Councils have a range of duties and responsibilities to promote the health and wellbeing of young people in their area.
These include the prevention of mental illness and the promotion of mental health and, as appropriate, assessment and treatment under the Mental Health Act 1983.
Councils are also responsible for providing targeted support for children and young people in care, those with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and those supported by youth offending teams.
They can collaborate with NHS commissioners and providers, schools and colleges, and the voluntary and community sector to provide a range of mental health support for young people – from universal services through to specialist mental health care.
The ‘whole household’ approach to young people’s mental health recognises the important roles that parents, carers or siblings can play, with research showing a strong link between parental mental health and young people’s mental health.
Local leaders have a key role to play in championing such an approach.
Within the complex commissioning landscape, councillors can act as useful navigators for community stakeholders, young people and families. And they can hold commissioners across agencies to account for delivering services that meet local needs.
“Councils need to think about partnership working”
While studies demonstrate the importance of working with families and households, most mental health services still focus on treating the individual.
What councils need to do, as part of a ‘whole household’ approach, is to reduce known risk factors and invest in initiatives that promote protective factors.
According to Public Health England, protective factors include family harmony and stability, positive parenting, affection, clear and consistent discipline, and support for education.
Conversely, risk factors include family disharmony or break up, inconsistent discipline style, parents/carers with mental illness, parental substance misuse, emotional abuse, parental criminality or alcoholism, death and loss.
A review by the Centre for Mental Health identified a range of family-friendly approaches to young people’s mental health embedded in local areas, such as:
- a system-wide redesign of child and adolescent mental health services with a focus on community support, transition to adulthood, and involvement of parents
- parenting programmes and tailored support for parents, foster carers and adoptive parents whose children have mental health problems
- flexible, non-judgemental holistic support for young people, tailored to work around family needs and circumstances
- family mediation for young people at risk of homelessness.
Collectively, and in different ways, promising approaches shared a number of common goals and principles. They set out to offer a wider range of support, make the system easier to navigate, avoid the ‘cliff-edge’ of support ending at age 18, share resources for young people and families, and help families to create mentally healthy homes.
To make this all work, councils need to think about partnership working, especially with NHS commissioners and with the voluntary sector.
They need to consider packaging a range of services ‘under one roof’, giving young people and their families flexible access to the help they need; and having a strong digital presence, where information on supporting mental health in the home and on accessing services is easily available. And they need to engage young people and families in service design and delivery.