World Mental Health Day 2021: young people in crisis - YMCA DownsLink Group

World Mental Health Day 2021: young people in crisis

World Mental Health Day
World Mental Health Day 2021

[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*

World Mental Health Day 2021 on 10th October is an opportunity for organisations around the world to get together to raise awareness of the importance of our mental health.

As a charity supporting children and young people one of the most concerning and challenging trends is a consistent increase in serious safeguarding alerts related to mental health issues, with self-harm and suicidal ideation* (or suicidal thoughts) being the most common.

Between April 2020 and April 2021, our safeguarding alerts were up 54% on the previous year and in the last quarter, suicidal ideation accounted for almost 70% of them. The pandemic itself had a significant impact on children and young people’s mental health, but the end of lockdown has illuminated the full scale of the crisis.

This scale of increase 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 are seeing an increase in referrals of school-age children of almost a third, compared to the previous two years. The pressure isn’t only felt by us, but is a system-wide issue. In practice, it means that the threshold for services continues to rise, so that only the most ‘serious’ cases are being seen. Huge numbers of children and young people, under severe mental stress, are waiting for a long time to be seen, which in turn, increases the likelihood of self-harm, suicidal ideation or even, suicide attempts.

Young people in supported housing impacted by increasingly severe mental health issues

In our supported housing projects, we’re seeing increasing levels of emotional distress in our residents. Dealing with low-level mental health issues (such as low-level anxiety or depression) has always been part of the remit of our Project Support Workers, but we’re seeing a huge increase in serious mental health presentations. As one resident put it, ‘young people can see no hope.’ As with the situation in our counselling services, because the wider mental health system is under severe pressure, it’s increasingly difficult to access the specialist services that a growing number of our young people need. This in turn puts strain on our Project Support Workers who are ‘holding’ the risk for these young people without being able to give them the specific therapeutic support needed.

Rise of eating disorders

Another worrying trend is the steady increase in reports of eating disorders. Often eating disorders are an indicator of low self-esteem and of needing to feel in control. Again, the threshold to access specialist services in this area is extremely high (related to dangerous weight loss) so that young people beginning to suffer are unable to get specialist help until the situation is at crisis level.  Within our supported housing, this is another issue Project Support Workers, without specialist training, are having to deal with.

Family breakdown main cause of youth homelessness during Covid

In our Youth Advice Centres, the number of young people presenting as homeless continues to rise. Covid continues to contribute to the breakdown of family relationships due to mental health, drug and alcohol use and domestic violence.  However, in addition, our Youth Advice Workers are reporting many more concerns around the deteriorating mental health of young people needing help, namely increased levels of self-harm, suicidal ideation and mental health diagnoses.

As an organisation, we are doing all we can to address this crisis. However, there is no easy answer. Fundamentally, all mental health services need more government funding. We’re working closely with all of our statutory and NHS partners to try and secure extra funding to recruit more specialist staff and counsellors. We’re also developing specific training around suicide prevention for front-line staff and will be rolling this out across the organisation.

In addition, we’re investing in digital wellbeing services, such as so that young people can find mental health support and advice online. We are also piloting groups for parents/carers specifically around ways to cope with a child or young person who is self-harming, as this is such a distressing and increasingly prevalent issue.  The current crisis is also creating a shortage of qualified mental health professionals, and we are actively recruiting more counsellors, CBT practitioners and psychotherapists, so if you are interested visit our jobs page.

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.

Could you help us change lives with a monthly donation?

Our projects change young lives. By donating you will enable us to continue to work with some of the most vulnerable young people in our communities. If you are able to please DONATE TODAY 


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.

Scroll to Top
Skip to content