Youth workers witness surge in mental health problems

Adam Offord
Monday, April 27, 2015

Youth workers are experiencing a marked increase in numbers of young people with mental health problems, the head of a major youth organisation has warned.

Anna Smee, chief executive of UK Youth, said her organisation is increasingly hearing concerns about young people's mental health being raised in youth work settings.

Her claims chime with a survey by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers last month that found that half of teachers surveyed had seen an increase in the number of children in their school with mental health issues.

Smee told CYP Now that young people are “facing increasingly complex decisions”, and has called for mental health issues to be taken as seriously as physical issues.

“I think the first thing we need to acknowledge is that this is a serious issue and you cannot treat anything unless you recognise there is a problem first," she said.

“There are ways of treating mental health problems and we need to make those treatments and support available for all young people.

“I think that comes from the top, from central government decision making and funding, but it also comes in local communities on the ground.”

Smee said youth workers are in a position to help tackle the issue.

"At UK Youth we believe that youth work and tackling mental health go hand in hand," she said.

"Youth leaders are often the first to notice signs of mental illness among young people.

"When youth workers approach the subject of mental health indirectly with young people with whom they have a strong relationship, they are highly effective at engaging with them on the issue to identify risks and offer vital support.

"They can provide pastoral care and act as a confidant to young people who might otherwise have no-one to turn to."

Depending on their qualification route, youth workers do not always have specialist training on how to deal with mental health issues.

The organisation has launched a mental health resource pack in order to help them tackle the issue more effectively.

"What we're seeking to do is make sure everybody has a basic understanding of this issue and knows what the first steps are," she said.

"The pack is designed to be used by a very experienced youth worker with good training in this area or a volunteer who is quite new to this area."


CYP Now Digital membership

  • Policy and research analysis
  • Evidence-based case studies
  • Leadership advice
  • Legal updates
  • Local area spotlights

From £15 / month


CYP Now Magazine

  • Policy and research analysis
  • Evidence-based case studies
  • Leadership advice and interviews
  • Legal updates

From £12 / month