Why HeadStart?

An animation created by a young person working with The Key Team, describing her mental health journey.

The issue of mental health, whether in adults, or in children and young people, has emerged from the shadows of stigma and unspoken discrimination to become a national priority for communities, health services, schools and our political leaders. Indeed, just last week, Theresa May, specifically mentioned the issue in her first public statement as our new Prime Minister.

Mental illness is the largest disease burden and the largest cause of disability within the UK. It frequently starts before adulthood and 75% of adults with a lifetime mental illness first developed symptoms before 18. Young people in the target 10 to 16 age group for HeadStart are journeying through key transitions in their lives, with long-term implications for their mental health and resilience. Public Health England report that in a typical class of thirty 15 year-olds:

  • 3 have a clinically diagnosable mental illness
  • 10 have witnessed their parents separate
  • 1 has experienced the death of a parent
  • 7 have been bullied
  • 6 are self-harming

Within this context, the answer to 'Why HeadStart?' is clear. We need HeadStart and similar programmes to target support at young people, directing professional expertise and new thinking at the most vulnerable, investing funds now to protect young people from lifelong mental health problems that destroy lives, and which drain resources from health services and the criminal justice system.

HeadStart is not a 'mental health' programme. It supports young people in developing their resilience, in raising their awareness of their own mental health and that of their peers, and in preventing the development of lifelong mental health issues.

“Fighting against the burning injustice .... that if you suffer from mental health problems, there’s not enough help to hand”
— (Theresa May, 13th July 2016)