England footballers, royalty and international popstars have been the focus of discussion this week, in a bid to raise awareness of mental health. There has been a flurry of positive discussion generated by a range of organisations, from mental health charities to big City firms, and the importance of the issue has been reinforced by the main political parties having hinted at (or leaked) an emphasis on mental health in their GE 2017 manifestos.
In the lead-up to the General Election, the prevalence of mental health on the political agenda will be positive to many of us, given recent reports of long waiting lists for mental health treatment, and a lack of available crisis beds. Simultaneously, a wider crisis in social care has had a knock-on impact on people’s mental and physical health. The scale of the mental health challenge our system faces is evident in the fact that two thirds of British adults now say they have experienced a mental health condition, with this being more prevalent among the 18 to 54 age group, according to the Mental Health Foundation.
The General Election is a clear opportunity to address mental healthcare, but also the many other issues that have a knock-on impact on young people and their mental health. Recent research ComRes conducted on behalf of Shelter shows the impact that housing issues alone are having on mental health, with one in five English adults saying that a housing issue had negatively impacted their mental health in the last five years. Here, too, younger adults are more likely to say that a housing problem or worry they’ve had in the last 5 years has had a negative impact on their mental health (a quarter of 18 to 34 year olds say this compared to one in five of those aged 55 to 64 and one in twenty of those aged 65+).
While the new Government’s mental health strategy is likely to have its biggest impact on this younger age group, a wealth of evidence exists to show that this is also the age group that is least likely to go out and vote in June (see our latest voting intention poll, as one example). We have seen many calls to younger people to go out and vote in this election – but what will make the difference and really inspire them do so?
We know that the NHS ranks as the top election issue for British adults, with another recent ComRes survey showing that 70% of British adults say is one of the three most important issues to them in the upcoming election, the highest of those tested. The NHS lead is particularly high among young people (79% of 18 to 24 year olds rank this in their top three, compared to 67% selecting Brexit). Among older voters, Brexit is the most important issue, followed very closely by the NHS (73% and 71% among those aged 55+).
So far the two main political parties have placed particular emphasis on Brexit and the NHS, issues that resonate well among the older electorate. As we have seen this week, if young people are looking beyond the noise, other issues that particularly impact them are also being talked about. In order to get younger voters out to the polls in June, the parties that choose to speak most loudly about the issues that feel relevant to this age group are likely to have the greatest success in getting them out to vote come June 8th.