To mark the launch of Pills and Policies, we took to the streets of Oxford Circus to ask Londoners what their thoughts were in regards to the following question: What is the biggest health concern affecting young people in the UK? As expected, there were a variety of responses to the question, ranging from mental health to obesity. This introductory post documents a few of the responses we received.
INGE AND SAM: MENTAL HEALTH IS THE BIGGEST CONCERN FOR YOUNG PEOPLE
In the UK, 1 in 10 young people experience mental health problems.
It is therefore no surprise that mental health was one of the main concerns raised by the young people we interviewed. In particular, Inge and Sam from New Zealand thought that policymakers should do more to address the stigma associated with mental health problems, and that they should not be deemed less important than physical health problems, which are more easily diagnosed. They also strongly opposed the government’s cuts to the funding of mental health services.
Inge, a science student, stressed how untreated mental health problems may have negative long-term implications both to the individual and society as a whole. Having a mental health problem may increase the risk of developing further health complications such as cardiovascular disease, which health policies currently prioritise. Any cost savings that cuts offer would only be temporary, as in the future there would be a higher proportion of people suffering from once preventable chronic illnesses. Sam praised the way in which the stigma on male mental health was tackled in New Zealand, where popular rugby players brought issues to the forefront. He suggested that a similar campaign was desperately needed in the UK.
Furthermore, with regards to male mental health, Julliet spoke to us about her boyfriend’s experience of dealing with severe depression; She discussed how having a continued personal relationship with the same psychiatrist during the course of the treatment was important in his recovery. This idea of personalised patient care overseen by an assigned consultant is one of health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s recent proposals on how to improve the NHS. He aims to readdress the issue of patient care being “a series of brief encounters” with professionals.
ADAM: MORE SHOULD BE SPENT ON PREVENTIVE MEASURES
Young people as a demographic are often seen as the healthiest, and any diversion from this is dismissed as the result of risk-taking behaviours such as binge drinking, smoking, overeating and unsafe sex.
This idea of the ‘young invincibles’ is detrimental to the healthcare of young people and their future wellbeing. The health issues that young adults face should be treated as legitimate. Jeremy Hunt has noted that more needs to be done in relation to prevention and public health promotion, although many of the people we spoke to felt as though the policies still remain disengaged from young adults. This group of people are left isolated from policies which stress the importance of early childhood intervention and the management of old age diseases. The short terms that governments have and their focus on being re-elected could be a reason for this, since the gains of focusing more on young adult health would only be noticeable in the long-term.
Max and Zihad thought that there should be more educational campaigns on healthy eating targeted specifically at young adults, not just children. They also suggested that healthy food should be more readily available at affordable prices, which is especially important in the light of the cuts being made to student finances.
In addition, Harriet, Matt and Debo spoke a great deal about improving sexual health education in schools, to better young peoples’ understanding of safe sex and dismantle societal taboos. To quote Matt, “Teachers should be able to have open and frank conversations about sex with their students. They shouldn’t be pressured to just focus on exam preparation”. Many young people also agree that there is a need for more non-binary, non-heteronormative sex education that includes content about consent.
YNN AND MAITE: OUR BIGGEST CONCERN IS THE NHS NOT EXISTING ANYMORE
Who will look after us when we are old?
The funding of the NHS and its future was an overarching concern among the majority of the young people we spoke to. Most people said they were proud of the NHS, and how it was free at the point of use, although many were worried that this may not be the case for much longer. One person however, who wished to remain anonymous, thought that the NHS being free was its biggest downfall, arguing the need for an American-style privatised health system. He thought that the NHS should be “run more like a business and less like a charity”. For most, this is their biggest fear, as it would increase the already worsening health inequalities in the UK. How then, does the NHS remain accessible to all without becoming inefficient and unsustainable? Pills and Policies will dissect and analyse these concerns amongst others in upcoming posts.
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