Suicide Prevention Awareness Day 2022: a landscape of complex mental health needs across our services - YMCA DownsLink Group

Suicide Prevention Awareness Day 2022: a landscape of complex mental health needs across our services

suicide prevention awareness day 2021

Suicide Prevention Awareness Day 2022

[TW: This article discusses the rise in serious mental health issues, self-harm and suicidal thoughts amongst children and young people. It may be triggering for some people].

*If you need immediate support please click here or scroll to the bottom to find details of organisations who can help

Suicide Prevention Awareness Day 2022 on 10th September is an opportunity for organisations around the world to get together to raise awareness of suicide prevention. As a charity supporting children and young people, we are only too aware of the devastating consequences of suicide.

For Suicide Prevention Awareness Day in 2021 we wrote about the worrying increase in serious safeguarding alerts within our services, related to mental health issues, with self-harm, severe eating disorders and suicidal ideation* (suicidal thoughts) being the most common. Tragically, our worst fears were realised in 2021 when two young people, connected to our YMCA, took their own lives. As an organisation with the safety of children and young people at the core of our mission these deaths impacted our YMCA immeasurably.

We undertook detailed internal investigations and a review of our services to learn from these deaths with the aim of preventing such tragedies happening again. In response, we’ve strengthened our safeguarding procedures, increased staff ratios and invested in specialist suicide prevention training. However, what these investigations highlighted is that our frontline staff are supporting more young people, with increasingly complex and serious mental health needs, than ever before. Last year, there were 945 reported instances of self-harm and 1202 cases of suicide ideation. In addition, the number of suicide attempts by young people accessing our services rose from 235 in 2020/21 to 339 this year.

Young people faced with a long wait for specialist mental health support

The increase and severity of need is being seen across all of our children and young peoples’ services; from our supported housing projects to our counselling services and youth advice centres (YAC). Our school and community counselling service has seen almost a threefold increase in referrals of school-age children, compared to the previous two years.

We are not alone; the alarming deterioration in young people’s mental health and wellbeing is reflected nationally. As the volume of demand for services continues to rise, provision and resource continues to play catch up, creating a build-up of waiting lists across the system.

Increasing numbers of children and young people are waiting for a long time to be seen, which in turn, can increase risk related to self-harm, suicidal ideation and attempts.

Frontline staff working with increasingly complex mental health needs

We are doing all we can to address this situation. In our housing services, our frontline staff are there to provide emotional support, but they are not mental health professionals. They can signpost and refer young people into specialist services, but as already highlighted, waits can be long. For a young person at risk to themselves or others the options are limited. There are very few ‘high support’ housing options and to access the highest level of mental health support (being ‘sectioned’ in hospital) a young person needs to be referred by a clinical team. So, for our staff the only other available option is eviction. We never want to evict a young person in mental distress, as being placed in emergency accommodation is only going to make their situation worse. This then puts a strain on our staff and impacts their ability to support other residents.

In response to this, Brighton & Hove City Council and Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust have funded two specialist mental health ‘navigator’ roles to work with our 24 hour supported housing teams to provide specialist skills that our frontline staff can call on to help deal with the increasingly complex mental health needs of some of our young residents. Although this will make a difference, the long-term solution is greater provision for children and young people with high mental health support needs.

Expanding our services and developing new partnerships to address the current youth mental health crisis

It is only by working closely with our statutory and NHS partners that we can find ways to try and ameliorate the current crisis. We have expanded our schools counselling service, which has resulted in a 40% increase in provision. However, despite this we still have long waiting lists and, in some areas, have had to halt referrals. Whilst funding is always an issue, another factor is the shortage of qualified mental health professionals. We are actively recruiting more counsellors, CBT practitioners and psychotherapists, as well as being able to offer training, so if you are interested visit our jobs page.

As well as aiming to secure more funding to train and recruit specialist staff and counsellors, we’re also working in partnership to develop other innovative ways to support children and young people. We continue to invest in digital wellbeing services, such as www.e-wellbeing. so that young people can find mental health information and self-help advice online. In West Sussex we are working with our partners to use our e-wellbeing platform as a simple gateway (Single Point of Access – SPoA) into accessing local emotional wellbeing and mental health support. We’ve also increased our work within schools via the ‘mental health champions’ programme, where students are empowered to look for solutions and devise ways in which emotional support can be delivered in their own schools.

As self-harm is an increasingly prevalent and distressing issue we’ve developed an innovative partnership project, The Self-Harm Learning Network, with West Sussex Mind and Allsorts. The network provides inclusive training for parents and professionals, focus groups with young people, and a range of helpful resources (via to support youth mental health and self-harm. The network is a supportive community, focussed on ways to cope with a child or young person who is self-harming, to either circumvent the need for specialist help or whilst waiting for it.

Despite the ongoing challenges we are committed to supporting children and young people experiencing mental health issues and are doing all we can to ensure that support is available across all of our services.

Help Us Do More – DONATE HERE

To find resources and advice on dealing with self-harm and suicidal ideation visit e-wellbeing HERE.

If you have been affected by any of the issues above and need urgent support see the links below:

Mental health helpline services available:

YoungMinds Crisis Messenger

  • If you need urgent help text YM to 85258
  • Provides free, 24/7 crisis support across the UK if you are experiencing a mental health crisis
  • All texts are answered by trained volunteers, with support from experienced clinical supervisors
  • Texts are free from EE, O2, Vodafone, 3, Virgin Mobile, BT Mobile, GiffGaff, Tesco Mobile and Telecom Plus.


The Mix

  • Information, support and listening for people under 25.
  • Phone 0808 808 4994 (24 hours)
  • Get support online


Suicide prevention for under 35s. Open 9am to midnight every day of the year.


  • 24-hour confidential listening and support for anyone who needs it. (Adults included.)
  • [email protected]
  • Phone 116 123 (24 hours)

*Suicidal ideation, often called suicidal thoughts or ideas, is a broad term used to describe a range of contemplations, wishes, and preoccupations with death and suicide. There is no universally accepted consistent definition of SI, which leads to ongoing challenges for clinicians, researchers, and educators.

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YMCA enables people to develop their full potential in mind, body and spirit. Inspired by and faithful to our Christian values, we create supportive, inclusive and energising communities, where young people can truly belong, contribute and thrive.

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