It’s time to shift the mental health debate onto rights

As part of this year’s Young People’s Health Focus Week, James Kenrick, CEO of Youth Access, explains why we all need to talk about rights if we want to see system change.

Problems with access to children and young people’s mental health services (CYPMHS) are well-documented and widely recognised, even at the heart of Government. There is a consensus that access, waiting times and the quality of some provision are unacceptable. The arguments tend to focus around precisely how to improve provision and how much money should be invested. But the debate rarely focuses on young people’s rights to receive high quality services.

Young people have moral, legal and human rights to access high quality, age-appropriate and timely mental health care. Last November, I argued in front of MPs on the Health Select Committee that the system’s failure to provide vulnerable adolescents and young adults with access to the help they need constitutes a breach of those rights. This breach of basic rights is happening day in, day out across the country, without challenge.

We believe that shifting the debate onto what young people are entitled to will help unblock the system from its obsession with process and bureaucracy and enable everyone to focus on young people’s wishes, needs and rights as part of a truly progressive approach to mental health care. Unlike funding levels, clinical thresholds and CQUINs, rights are non-negotiable.

We are encouraged that charities and even politicians are starting to talk about rights. Only this week, Labour MP Luciana Berger called in parliament for "a genuinely rights-based approach to mental health treatment" – and the minister, Jackie Doyle-Price, responded by noting the importance of a “rights-centred approach”.

Unsurprisingly, it turns out that young people themselves are the keenest of all for this shift to occur. Young campaigners involved in the Make Our Rights Reality programme say they are fed up waiting to be taken seriously on mental health. Rather than hanging around while we professionals gaze at our own navels, they are using rights-based arguments to lead their own change and building a national campaign to make sure young people know their rights and how to fight for them.

I urge you to read young people’s blogs on mental health rights or, if you are aged 16 to 25, sign up to become a mental health Rights Advocate responsible for raising awareness, gaining support and making lasting impact for young people in your local community.

We are also publishing fantastic new blogs for Young People’s Health Focus Week by eminent professionals:

You can follow the debate:

on Twitter @YPhealth  @MORR_RIGHTS  @YouthAccess  @DebatingMH

on Instagram @morr_rights

#YPHealthMatters #mentalhealth #youthrights #MakeOurRightsReality

 – and let us know what you think!