World Health Day: In this crisis, government must engage with young people about our health

Harry is a 19 year old #iWill Ambassador and student. He is also a member of the British Youth Council’s Youth Policy Steering Group, who have been working with the government for the past year to ensure young people’s voices are heard in the policy making process.

When was the last time that you felt anxious or afraid?

For me, it was on Sunday evening, when Her Majesty the Queen addressed the nation. It wasn’t what she was saying that hit me, I actually found her words quite comforting. It was the fact that she was there, saying something, and that the nation stood still to listen. National addresses from the monarch only come in times of real crisis. At that moment, the scale of the challenge we are facing dawned on me. I felt a sense of fear for my own health, and for the health of those that I love most.

Luckily, I’ve got the tools I need to help me to manage those anxieties and fears. I have a supportive network of family and friends, and I feel in control of my health, to a certain degree at least, by following the public health messaging that has been coming out from government in recent weeks. I know that, through my actions, I have the ability to keep myself, and my family, safe. That is a comforting thought.

However, I am not representative of all young people. Often, we hear the category of ‘young people’ used to describe all 19,760,000 people under the age of twenty-five who are currently living in the UK. I want to challenge that idea. If there’s one thing that you take away from this post, let it be these next few words: young people are not all the same. We each have our own needs, and as a result we need different types of support.

So, why am I telling you this? Well, while I may be able to largely manage my anxieties and fears, the reality for many young people is that they cannot. Between March 20th (when schools closed) and March 25th (when restrictions were tightened), Young Minds found that 83% of young people said their mental health had worsened as a result of the Coronavirus crisis. While this may be in part down to the loss of routine and lack of face-to-face contact, a lack of clear, public health messaging aimed at children and young people must be considered as a contributing factor too. 

The daily press briefings, as informative as they are, are hardly young person friendly, and much of the advice that exists is aimed at parents. Giving advice to parents is great for some, but not all young people have parents, and out of those who do, not all of those parents are supportive or well informed. Remember, we’re not all the same. Giving advice to parents on how to support their children may work for some. But for others it simply isn’t enough.

The good news is, there’s a pretty simple fix. I’m going to end by making one, simple request to anyone with access to young people. Government, local authorities and schools, take note. Talk to us about our health, both mental and physical. Don’t talk to someone else and ask them to pass the message on. Why bother? Well, we’ve grown up in a generation where mental health has taken centre stage, so we’re equipped with the language to talk about our health. 

In fact, I’d even go as far as saying that many young people are far better equipped than anyone else to do this. We’re also far more likely to talk to each other than to an adult about how we’re getting on. Research proves this. So, give us the information that we need, in a concise, child-friendly manner, and equip us to have those conversations. How? Hold a press conference where young people, instead of journalists, are invited to ask questions. Utilise advertising on young people’s favourite platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat to convey simple messages.

Harness our power and willingness to talk about our health. Above all else, don’t forget us.