A £1.5 million fund has been set up to help young people develop mental health support networks including online advice and workshops to help set them up, the government has announced.
Within this, a digital innovation fund will be used to provide new online resources for parents and young people such as mobile phone apps.
Young people are often the first to spot when all is not well with their friends. Likewise, young people often confide in their friends first about any mental health issue they may be experiencing, so the idea behind the fund is to ensure that young people are trained in how to spot the signs so they can get the help they need.
A new advisory group will gather evidence from young people about their experiences and work with schools that are running successful peer-to-peer support networks, so this approach can be extended to thousands of schools across the country.
The group will be supported by experts from charities, including YoungMinds, headteachers, and young people themselves.
In addition, a call for evidence has been launched on social media platforms such as Twitter and sites such as Sugarscape to make it easier for young people to get involved.
The information gathered through this will be used by the advisory group to develop peer support pilot schemes – setting up projects learning from those that are already doing it well – to inspire other young people.
The group will also look at key issues that affect specific groups of young people, such as children in care, as well as helping parents understand how to talk about mental health with their children and working with schools.
Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said: “We know that if mental health issues aren’t tackled in children, it can blight their lives as adults. That’s why I think all schools should be having an open and frank conversation about mental health so that we continue to tackle the stigma that still surrounds it and ensure every child gets the support they need.
“The truth is that the people who best understand the pressures that young people face are their classmates and friends - they’re the ones that spot the tell-tale signs that their friends are experiencing problems, and the people to whom children are most likely to turn for support. That’s why today’s announcements are about giving young people the training they need to spot the signs of mental health issues and get the support they need. To do that we will be working with schools, mental health experts, charities - and most importantly young people themselves.”
Peer support networks can mean anything from informal buddying schemes to one-on-one and group sessions with trained support, and can happen face-to-face or online.
They can help young people show solidarity with their classmates and friends; tackle the isolation and insecurity that often accompany mental illness; and help take the stigma out of mental health by improving young people’s understanding.
For instance, at Sandon School in Essex, pupils volunteer as mentors and wear a badge so they can be easily identified by other pupils who might need someone to talk to about issues they are facing.
Helen Newman, assistant headteacher at Sandon School and member of the advisory group, said: “Peer support is a very important part of our school. The work that peer mentors and their mentees do together builds resilience and self-esteem on both sides. Young people that would otherwise find it difficult to engage with support feel reassured knowing that they have someone in school to turn to who is close to them in age, who may have had similar experiences to them and who won’t judge them.
“Mentors, some of whom have been mentees themselves in the past, embrace the responsibility for supporting others and the high esteem in which they are held by students and staff helps them develop their own confidence.”