Alistair Burt

Alistair Burt talks about plans to improve children and young people’s mental health including a national anti-stigma campaign for teenagers.

Thank you to the King’s Fund for hosting today’s event.

There may be a sense of déjà vu for many of you here. It was only 6 months ago that Norman Lamb stood where I’m standing, announcing the way forward for children and young people’s mental health.

‘Future in Mind’ established a clear and powerful consensus about improving children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing. Of course, we’ve had a change of government, but not a change in direction. Children and young people’s mental health is one of my priorities and I’m delighted to be the lead on this exciting work.

Today we’re talking about nothing short of the biggest transformation to young people’s mental health and one of the largest investments the sector has seen.

I want to place the emphasis on building young people’s resilience, promoting good mental health and wellbeing and intervening early. We need to build care around the needs of young people and their families. I want to deliver a clear joined-up approach to mental health care, so children and young people can navigate through the system to get the care they need.

And I want there to be a culture of continuous improvement, built off the back of the very best and latest evidence. There is a powerful local consensus to do exactly this; people want to transform the local offer made to young people and their families.

And it was this consensus which I heard when I met several of you at a Youth Access event in July. Then, I spoke of three things that were needed – collaboration, leadership and participation. These three things I still think are crucial, and let me address each in turn.


Thank you to those of you here who were involved in developing your local transformation plans, which have been the result of much collaboration. This will change lives. If we want to improve care for children, young people and their families and, not only that, but secure sustainable change, then collaboration is essential.

The plans show how you’ll work closer together, become more transparent, transform the service, invest in your workforce and make sure that quality improves.

This collaboration is being mirrored nationally, too. I’m pleased to be able to share the stage today with Sam Gyimah who will talk soon about what’s been happening in the school sector. But wider than this – NHS England, supported by Public Health England, are assuring the plans and will provide support to those areas who need it. My colleagues at NHS England will pick this up later this afternoon.

We are in this for long game and this is the start of a journey. We want a system that is built to last, that has sustainability throughout. But we can’t do this from Whitehall alone – so your work at local level is crucial and greatly appreciated.


This brings me on to my second point: leadership. There are, of course, somethings which are best placed for us to lead on at a national level, working with our partners.

For example – data. I find it astonishing that you are able to do the good work you do with mental health prevalence data from a time before Facebook. So much in our society has changed since 2004. The irony being that the technology that’s come about – made to multiply the way we communicate – has often made young people more withdrawn.

With the Health and Social Care Information Centre, we are commissioning the first national survey of children and young people’s mental health since 2004. And I’m pleased to announce today that a consortium of NatCen and the Office for National Statistics has been selected to conduct the survey, and will start work immediately.

The new survey will be much wider in scope than in previous years – involving 9,500 children, their parents, carers and teachers. And for the first time ever, the survey will gather information from the under 5s and from older adolescents, greatly improving our understanding of the needs of these groups.

From this, we will be able to estimate how many children in the population are living with a mental disorder. It will also examine the issues that lead to mental ill health, like bullying or other social pressures.

And of course with these social pressures comes stigma.

Stigma prevents young people seeking help in the first place. A recent survey suggested that more than 1 in 4 young people with a mental health illness want to give up on life. I will do everything in my power to make sure that does not happen.

I’m pleased to announce that the largest ever national anti-stigma campaign for teenagers and parents will launch next month. We will be working alongside Time to Change on a social marketing campaign specifically targeted on the places where young people spend their time online.

This will take place alongside in-school activity to boost the support available there, and targeted marketing and information for parents. The Department of Health has provided the funding for the campaign to run this year and I look forward to seeing its impact.

This is something that young people have asked for – better information about mental health, tailored specifically for them, online.

And I am pleased to say that we will be doing exactly that. Today we are launching a new section of NHS Choices which specifically focuses on youth mental health.


This brings me on to my third point: participation.

This new section of the website hasn’t been designed by a bunch of middle-aged civil servants around an old wooden table. This has been designed directly with young people – their fingerprints are everywhere, and they need to be if we want this site to have any cut-through with them.

We know that there is much more digital expertise in mental health matters out there than we can deliver centrally.

Last month we announced a £650,000 innovation fund to accelerate the development of high quality, evidence-based and safe products like apps or websites to improve mental health. I am pleased to announce today that £500,000 of this has been ring-fenced for products focussing on young people’s mental health.

Young people also wanted health professionals to have a better understanding about online risks, so that they could understand the world that they are growing up in. On average, young people spend 27 hours a week online – so they are as much a part of their digital world as they are the physical one.

Many of the digital tools supported by the new fund will be targeted at professionals, but we are also working in partnership with MindEd and Xenzone to develop a special module about online risk. This will give health professionals a trusted and accessible way to better understand and respond to the digital risks facing young people today.

It is vital that we improve the digital literacy of the workforce. They need to be able to better recognise and support young people who have suffered from online victimisation. Only by doing this do we stand a chance at helping prevent young people from developing mental health complications as a result of an adverse online experience.

What this work has shown is that you need to involve young people in decisions about them if you want to offer them the best care.

When I gave evidence to the Youth Select Committee on young people’s mental health, it was inspiring to see how involved and passionate they were about the subject. I look forward to their report next month.

Young people themselves and their experiences – both good and bad – will be the ultimate measure of whether we have been successful in our endeavours.