Vulnerable young people in custody need better mental health support, including safer and more inclusive places for treatment

The life experiences of young offenders in custody are undeniably diverse. This includes diversity in socio-economic and cultural backgrounds. Various risk factors that may increase the likelihood of deviant behaviours and involvement in crime overlap those similar to mental health – ranging from living in poverty, child abuse, family breakdown to history of drug abuse and truancy. This however, does not fully explain why 95% of imprisoned young offenders have mental health disorders. There is more that can be done within the system to prevent such a statistic.

In this particular post, Pills and Policies explores the mental health concerns and needs of young offenders from ethnic minority backgrounds in custody.

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Mental health cuts: How exactly do they affect service users?

Headline figures shock us with news of cuts to mental health services, but they almost always focus on the political angle and disregard the ground impact. Pills and Policies visited Highgate Day Centre’s open day to see first-hand how proposed cuts would affect its service users and employees, as well as how you can help. What we discovered was more alarming than anything we’d read in a newspaper, and it made us question the direction the NHS was headed in as a whole.

The Highgate Day Centre is a mental health service for 18 to 65 year olds. Camden and Islington council is close to finalising plans to cut the centre’s annual funding from £270,000 to £130,000. These cuts would have devastating consequences for the 60-strong community of service users, and result in half of the employees losing their jobs. The centre, which has existed for over 40 years and provided a lifeline to many vulnerable people, is fighting for its existence.

There are no reporters when we arrive, or in fact during our whole stay at the centre.

Home-baked cakes and bread are laid out at the entrance, we are greeted warmly by the employees, a brass band is playing in the car park, and there is an art exhibition upstairs – the atmosphere is lively, home-like and welcoming, although there is an underlying tension since this is all under threat.

We speak with Lena and Rachel, two of the service users, to find out more about their experience of the Highgate Day Centre and how this is changing.

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An Introduction: Your Biggest Health Concerns

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

Inge and Sam


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.




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

Ynn and Maite


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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