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First port of call: the role of GPs in early support for young people’s mental health

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About the report

General Practitioners (GPs) are a frontline service for young people that are struggling with their mental health. They play a crucial role in providing advice to young people and in making referrals to specialist support, which can be life-changing.

However, both young people and GPs themselves often voice frustration over their experiences of trying to navigate the complexity of our health system.

Working alongside The Children's Society, we wanted to hear from young people and GPs about what they thought needed to change to ensure that young people can access mental health support when they need it.

What did we do?

Between July 2020 and March 2021 we engaged with young people and GPs to understand their views and experiences related to the young people’s mental health system. To do this, we spoke to young people with past experiences of seeking help for their mental health. Alongside this, we surveyed 2,005 young people aged 16-25 across the UK.

  • The survey includes responses from young people living in England (89%), Wales (four per cent), Scotland (five per cent) and Northern Ireland (two per cent).
  • The majority of survey respondents were female (66%).
  • 67% of respondents reported being White; 12% of respondents were of an Asian ethnicity; nine per cent reported being Black; and seven per cent were of mixed ethnicity.

We also conducted interviews with GPs to understand their experiences of supporting young people with their mental health and to understand the landscape of community mental health support in their local area. The report also draws on a survey that YoungMinds commissioned with 1,008 GPs across the UK during October 2019.

What we found

  • 55% of 16-25 year-olds surveyed had visited their GP about a mental health concern at some point in their lives; 33% reported that they had been to their GP between two and five times about their mental health.
  • 67% of young people surveyed would prefer to be able to access support for their mental health without going to see their GP.
  • Only 53% of young people surveyed indicated that they know other routes to access mental health support that don‚Äôt involve going to see their GP.
  • In a 2019 survey, only ten per cent of GPs surveyed agreed that they usually feel confident that a referral to NHS Children and Young People‚Äôs Mental Health Services (CYPMHS) will result in treatment. More than three-quarters (76%) disagreed.
  • In the same survey, only eight per cent of GPs surveyed agreed that there is good community support for children and young people with mental health problems in their area (e.g. through youth clubs, local charities, drop-in centres etc), 77% disagreed.

67% of young people surveyed
would prefer to be able to access support for their mental health without going to see their GP.

Our research showed that GPs are a significant source of support for young people’s mental health across the country. Many young people told us that going to see their GP made a positive difference in their journey to mental health support. For some young people, GPs provided significant levels of support while they received or waited for specialist services. However, young people also reported negative experiences associated with going to see their GP about their mental health, as well as barriers to accessing support.

GPs also voiced frustration about the discrepancy in early support available across different local areas. They told us that there is often a lack of services to signpost children and young people to, with many respondents mentioning that they would hold young people in primary care to ensure they got some form of support.

Despite the improvements to mental health support for young people in recent years, our report highlights that access to specialist services varies considerably across the country and that for young people early mental health support is often even harder to access. GPs have varying degrees of confidence and knowledge in supporting young people with their mental health, creating what amounts to a postcode lottery.

Read the full report here

What needs to change?

The findings of our report show that there must be a renewed focus on early intervention by supporting young people with their mental health much earlier - and before their needs escalate to the point of needing specialist support.

We are calling for a network of hubs across the country, which would provide early support for young people’s mental health when their problems first emerge. Early support hubs offer drop-in support on a self-referral basis for young people up to age 25 struggling with their mental health and wellbeing.

We are also calling for the Government to:

  • improve access to NHS children and young people‚Äôs mental health services
  • embed the principles of a youth-friendly practice in GP surgeries across the country to improve accessibility for children and young people such as appointing a champion for young people‚Äôs mental health and allowing for accessible and flexible appointments
  • provide additional training for GPs and surgery staff on children and young people‚Äôs mental health
  • ensure that GPs and other professionals are aware of services and support options for young people‚Äôs mental health
  • enable families to support young people who are struggling with their mental health by expanding provision focused on advice and guidance for families and carers at the national and local level
Find out more about our Fund The Hubs campaign

Find out more

If you have any questions, please email our Policy and Public Affairs Manager, Emily Dobson, at:¬†[email protected]