Reporter: I’m joined now by Natasha Devon who was until recently the government’s mental health tsar, until she was effectively sacked for criticising government policy on mental health
Are you surprised by the levels of mental health problems that are being reported by students?
Devon: Unfortunately I’m not, we know that university can be an incredibly difficult time for people who are prone to mental health issues because first of all it’s a transitional phase in your life, you are quite often going away from everything that is familiar, everything that you know, the stability and the comforts of home, into a new environment but also because you’re completely unsupervised and people who know you best can’t detect those changes in behaviour and thought patterns
But I also think that there’s something in it’s very difficult to be a young person today and interestingly students, young minds rather, did a survey in 2014 on four thousand young people and they found that things like student debt and the prospect of perhaps being unemployed were one of the major causes of anxiety in young people so we have to
Reporter: Now I know…
Devon: Sorry, go on
Reporter: Well I know that you were very critical about the government’s role in trying to deal with some of those bigger issues – do you feel that any movement is being made at all?
Devon: I don’t because I feel that there is still a misunderstanding about the distinction between a mental illness and a mental health issue, people use them interchangeably and they’re not the same, your young lady who appeared in your film, er Jennifer she had anorexia nervosa which is a mental illness and some people do believe that there is a genetic element to that, we certainly know that it is quite often linked to things that happened to us in childhood, and to a certain extent they’re unavoidable although our circumstances effect severity and onset and of course it’s always possible to recover
A mental health issue is anything that makes you think or feel differently about yourself, and if you’re simply responding because of the pressure and the stresses around you and you feel anxious and stressed, that’s not a mental illness that you need to be medicated for, we need to look at what’s happening in young people’s lives to cause these levels of anxiety
Reporter: Now lots of those things are quite difficult then to get a handle aren’t they because they’re a little bit wooly, the government says they are putting 1.25 billion into mental health services for young people over the next five years – do you see things improving at all in the future?
Devon: That 1.25 billion is going into the treatment of mental illness it’s not going into looking at the root causes of what’s actually leading to these mental health issues – the other thing to say of course is that that 1.25 billion isn’t ring fenced, and that so far that money that’s been invested has only seen half of local authorities increase their spending in real terms on mental health, so no one quite knows where that money has gone or is going so it’s a little bit smoke and mirrors I think
Reporter: Okay Natasha we’ll have to leave it there, but thank you very much for being with us this evening
Devon: Thank you