Dr Harriet Edmondson Public Health Registrar

The Children’s Mental Health week took place nationally from the 4th-10thFebruary. This was followed shortly afterwards by the Feeling Good Week in Hertfordshire from 11-17thFebruary which aimed to promote emotional wellbeing for children and young people by raising awareness and showing where support can be accessed within the community. The mental health and wellbeing of young people is a key area of work for the public health team in Hertfordshire and these events provide an opportunity to reflect on the work being done. This is an important public health issue: one in four people will experience a mental health problem during their lifetime and over three quarters of mental health problems start before young people reach their early twenties.

At public health journal club this month, we discussed a recent paper looking at links between screen time and anxiety and depression in young people. Screen time was assessed at age 16, with follow up for anxiety and depression at age 18. The study was done because the evidence on this was unclear and it was the first study to follow up young people over time. However, the data used for the study was nearly 10 years old, leading to questions over the relevance given the changes in the way we use screen-based devices over the last 10 years. Though the paper found modest links between computer use at the weekend and depression only, it got us thinking about what we are doing to improve the mental health of young people locally. Good mental health and wellbeing is important to all of us, and it’s crucial that this remains at the forefront of public health work so that everyone feels able to get the support that they need.

Mental health and wellbeing are major focuses of work nationally. Over 70 organisations have just signed up to Public Health England’s Prevention Concordat for Better Mental Health. The concordat highlights the importance of focusing on prevention to improving public mental health and reduce inequalities. Alongside this sits work specifically targeted to young people including guidance for schools to promote emotional health and wellbeing and the development of the Rise Above peer-led digital platform, amongst other initiatives. Wellbeing week is the Mental Health Foundation’s new initiative which schools to hold their own wellbeing weeks and which uses the Five Ways to Wellbeing  as a set of actions that young people can take to improve their wellbeing.

Public mental health approaches are increasingly important in Hertfordshire and involve a range of organisations and agencies. There’s a whole host of different pieces of work being done but key local resources include Just Talk, a campaign to raise awareness about mental health and wellbeing and encourage young people to talk about these issues, and current work on a new wellbeing strategy for children and young people in Hertfordshire.

As a public health registrar at Hertfordshire, it is great to work with a team doing important work on this issue and provides great opportunities for learning. A number of the registrars at HCC have had the opportunity to work on projects relating to mental health and wellbeing for young people. For example, I have been working on a project to develop e-learning for professionals who work with young people in Hertfordshire. The training is based around the ‘Making Every Contact Count’ brief intervention approach, with a focus on mental health and wellbeing and also promotes the Five Ways to Wellbeing .

To find out more about mental health and wellbeing for young people in Hertfordshire, take a look at the Healthy young minds in Herts and Just Talk websites.