Course offered as part of PM's pledge to help teenagers improve mental health
Theresa May has pledged to help teenagers improve their mental health by offering a new awareness course on the flagship national service scheme for young people.
On A-level results day, the Prime Minister announced the new National Citizen Service (NCS) course as part of efforts to help young people struggling with exam pressure, self-esteem or other issues.
Mrs May said the NCS, which was set up by her predecessor David Cameron, can play a key role in early intervention and giving teenagers the confidence to access mental health support.
Ahead of a visit to meet young people currently on the NCS programme, as well as graduates of the scheme and staff, Mrs May said: "Mental health issues can have a devastating effect on young lives and that's why making sure young people are fully supported, both inside and outside of the classroom, is a key priority for me.
"It is not only the pressures of school and exams, though that is in the front of our minds today, but also self-esteem issues, struggles with home life or friendships, and getting into university or finding a job that can all affect mental well-being.
"We know that early intervention, along with giving young people the confidence to access support, is key - that's where NCS plays such a vital role. NCS helps young people forge friendships across social divides and enhance their confidence and self-esteem."
The course will be developed with mental health experts and NCS graduates.
The scheme's package of measures will also include mental health training for more than 10,000 NCS staff and a new network of graduates from the scheme to champion mental health awareness.
Michael Lynas, chief executive of NCS, said: "As our country's flagship programme for 16-year-olds, we know just how important the issue of mental health is to this age group and we hope this initiative will help the next generation to live healthier and happier lives."
Mr Cameron set up the youth programme on becoming prime minister in 2010 as part of his so-called "big society", and became chairman of NCS Patrons in his first job after quitting politics following the Brexit vote.
In January, the National Audit Office (NAO) warned that the NCS must cut costs by nearly a third if it is to hit its participation targets and stay within budget.
Since 2011, more than 300,000 16 and 17-year-olds have taken part in NCS, usually on four-week summer programmes involving residential courses and community projects.
In 2016, 93,000 people participated in the programme, according to the NAO.
Shadow mental health minister Barbara Keeley said: "Raising awareness of mental health issues is important.
"But what happens to young people when they find the courage to seek help, only to find the services they need just aren't there?
"Currently, two-thirds of children referred to specialist mental health services by their GP receive no help, and a third are not even assessed.
"Many have to wait until they have made multiple suicide attempts before they are able to get the help they need."
She also accused the Government of "letting down a generation of young people" by failing to properly fund services.