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As the UK Health Select Committee voices concerns about the mental health of young people, Jay Thompson, Deputy UK Youth Commissioner, discusses Scouting’s place in that debate.

So many ways to say ‘hello’

Instant messaging; Twitter; Instagram; Relay; Facebook: never before has a generation had so many ways of saying ‘hello’ as mine does. A recent study by ComRes found that 18% of 15-18-year-olds check their social media feeds every hour, and 15% every half hour. I’ve connected with Scouts from across the country – indeed the world – in a way that was never before possible. Feels pretty sociable, right?

The same study found that 25% of young people feel happier online than in real life and 13% say their online friends know them better than other young people they interact with in real life. 25% of my generation also say they are ‘addicted’ to social media; 25% wish they could give it up. Maybe we need to be careful before we celebrate a new-found age of connectivity....

‘Cinderella service’

Recently, the UK Health Select Committee published a report cautioning that effective early intervention services for young people with mental health problems were being cut. This prompted the Care and Support Minister, Norman Lamb, to say that: ‘if mental health services are the “Cinderella service” of our NHS, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services are the Cinderella Service of Cinderella Services’. As a third year student mental health nurse, I couldn’t agree more.

Our childhood forms the building blocks of a healthy and meaningful life. The mental health of young people is important but it seems to be overlooked; without action, this lack of support will lead to a crippling effect on some of the most vulnerable young people in society.

Scouts should take action, and in many ways we already are. Being one of the most powerful social networks in the world, we believe in giving young people life skills in order to achieve a happy, successful life. Scouts see success not just based on academia or exams, but instead on having a positive outlook; making and giving something back to our communities. We provide a place in the real world for young people to connect, build wellbeing and resilience, keep active and help others – things essential for positive mental health.

We can do more

As other forms of early interventions are wrongly cut for a generation struggling to find the right balance between digital and real-life interactions, we at least can continue to build positive mental health before we have to treat damaging mental illness. And I’d like Scouts to do even more – to unashamedly focus on positive mental health and wellbeing.

In the meantime, let’s not deride the achievements my generation has had in harnessing the potential of digital technology, but let’s also not confuse being more ‘social’ with being less lonely.

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