Victoria Hume, Director of the Culture, Health & Wellbeing Alliance

Never has the need been greater to support children and young people’s mental health. The rise in mental health problems in children and young people is an indictment of our current social systems.

Recent surveys show that:

  • children’s level of happiness has fallen significantly in the last decade – Understanding Society
  • three in five young people have experienced mental health problems themselves, or are close to someone who has – Mind
  • 65% of 16-25 year olds reporting feeling lonely at times and 32% feeling lonely often or constantly – Relate.

Anxiety and depression in the face of climate change is a growing factor too – as Kids in Museums has recognised in its guide to help museums support youth climate activism.

In its new strategy launched last week, Arts Council England has strengthened its commitment to “ensuring that children and young people are able to fulfil their creative potential, and access the highest-quality cultural experiences” – in part through its ongoing partnership with the Department of Education.

Across heritage, libraries and the arts, the cultural sector seems to be stepping up to its responsibilities. A range of creative programmes are springing up across the UK, directly to support young people’s mental health.

Funded by Exeter City Council and Arts Council England, the Handle with Care Project at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM) worked with Devon Carers and photographer Brendan Barry at the end of 2019. They brought groups of young carers together “in a neutral and non-judgemental environment”, helping them to develop new friendships and creative and practical skills. The project culminated in an exhibition and celebration event on Carers Rights Day.

Liz Smith from Devon Carers said: “Working with the RAMM has been a great experience for us as a service and we have worked well together. We would love to see more opportunities for young carers to access the arts within the county.”

University of Cambridge Museums work with their local NHS adolescent inpatient unit for young people with severe mental health difficulties. Education staff from the museums visit the Centre, bringing handling collections and resources to act as inspiration for workshops led by an artist educator. The young people can connect with the collection, get creative, and work towards achieving Arts Award qualifications.

In the wider arts, 42nd Street, a Manchester-based charity that works with young people to support their mental health, recently collaborated on a project with 16 young people to create a piece of immersive theatre called ‘Missing’, tackling the topic of loneliness.

This year, the Culture, Health & Wellbeing Alliance and London Arts in Health are focusing our major national festival, Creativity & Wellbeing Week, on ‘Positive Futures’. We hope to encourage and build events that return a sense of agency and imagination to young people over a future that is too often presented as predetermined. We would love you to take part!

It is all about creating hope; if we can do that for the newest generations, we can do it for our society as a whole.

To find out more about the Alliance’s Creative Festivals, visit their website.