Taylor Morrison-EavesSix partnerships across England will enable young people to cope better and seek early support with their mental health problems and worries before they become more serious, the Big Lottery Fund has announced.

HeadStart brings together partnerships of young people, charities, health commissioners, parents, teachers, GPs and local authorities in Blackpool, Cornwall, Hull, Kent, Newham and Wolverhampton. The initiative will help 10-16 year-olds feel they have support in school, the community and at home, as well as tackling the stigma associated with mental health. 

On average, three children in every classroom have a clinically diagnosable mental health condition, 90% of headteachers have reported an increase in mental health issues over the past five years and hospital admissions for self-harm among the under-18s are up 50%.

Focusing on providing a supportive environment around young people, the partners will offer a range of approaches in schools and communities, including peer mentoring, mental health ‘first aid’ training, staying safe online, tackling social media bullying and special resilience lessons. HeadStart will also provide targeted support to pupils showing risk factors such as repeated absences and disruptive behaviour, and also to particularly vulnerable groups, including young people in care.

Young people have been central to the development of the programme in each area, after identifying mental health as one of their top concerns. Adults working with children – including teachers, dinner ladies and youth workers – will be supported to spot the early signs of problems, know what they can do to support young people and where to get them more specialised help.

Lyn Cole, Big Lottery Fund England grant-making director, said: “Mental health issues in early teens, if not tackled early, can develop into more serious conditions, impacting on school results and opportunities later on in life. HeadStart has been developed with young people to ensure that mental health is embedded in a school’s culture and pupils’ emotional welfare is recognised as fundamental to their overall achievement. This will raise awareness, tackle stigma and enable young people to seek the support they need when they have problems and are under stress. This funding will make a huge difference to the development of young people at a crucial time in their lives.”

The scheme has been running for some time and is already providing positive outcomes for young people. For instance, Taylor Morrison-Eaves (pictured), 18, who has been supported by HeadStart Blackpool, said: “I've been with HeadStart Blackpool since the very first workshop almost two and a half years ago. I joined because I didn't want other young people to go through what I went through and was still going through. I had poor mental health, I was punishing myself for things that had nothing to do with me and getting out of bed every day was a challenge. 

“I struggled with the simple tasks, like putting my hand up in school, saying when something was wrong, the little things that you need to do to get through. Every chance I got I'd say I was sick so I didn't have to go to school, I just wanted to be alone.

“Then I reached rock bottom. I was diagnosed with adolescent psychosis and later on generalised anxiety disorder. I was on medication and having weekly appointments with my counsellor. After a few months of going through life with my head down, my youth worker asked if I'd like to be a part of a project called HeadStart. 

“If someone had told me three years ago that I would now be finishing a performing arts course at college with amazing grades, going to university, doing something I've wanted to do for as long as I can remember, having the confidence to perform at the Grand Theatre and doing presentations on what I'm passionate about, I wouldn't have believed you. It's mostly thanks to HeadStart Blackpool. 

“HeadStart Blackpool has taught me so many new skills that are so useful in various situations. They've taught me interview techniques and how to lead a workshop. Building resilience is key to helping young people have the strength and confidence to face life's adversities and ask for help when they need it.”

The work by the partnerships will lead to shared learning and better evidence on what works to supportive effective prevention and early intervention, enabling more young people to access the right support early on.