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Tutor2u Year 12 student competition winner!

Ruth Tarrant

29th February 2024

After reading many fabulous entries to the competition in the Autumn 2023 Economics Update Magazine, we are delighted to announce that Matilda Jones from St Joseph's, Ipswich is the overall Year 12 winner. Matilda's thought-provoking piece on the theme of "the biggest economic problem that we face" is presented below.

Hello, my name is Lucy, and I have spent over a decade struggling with severe mental health difficulties. I have felt so alone, although I know I am not the only one with this problem. Mental health has become an epidemic of our age and needs more government attention.

When I was 14 years old, I started going through what I thought was just a rough patch in my life, although it became so much more than this. It became a turning point, the thing that turned my life upside down. Here I am, ten years later, with a story to tell. When I first started struggling, I was still in full time education, and I quickly realised how much of a responsibility my school had to take care of me – the counselling, the phone calls home, the checkups, and the teachers who would help me to catch up on work when I had missed lessons. At the time I don’t think I realised how much of a drain this was on the educational system. My school provided counsellors for students, had a whole team of pastoral staff, many with specialist training. The cost was likely to have been significant. I was at a state school, so this support would have been government funded. However, it is because the NHS itself is so desperate for funding itself that all these serious mental health cases in teenagers are put onto schools to deal with in the first place. “The total funding allocated to schools was £57.3 billion in 2023-24.” How much of the school budget is being used to fund support for series mental health issues in teenagers each year?

I discovered just how desperate the NHS were for funding first hand when I applied for the NHS counselling waiting list. Unfortunately, this didn’t go to plan as a reasonable amount of time later we still hadn’t heard anything back. The worst part is, is that it appears I am not the only one who has faced these challenges as you can be waiting for “up to 18 weeks or even longer”. Because of the ever-growing mental health crisis, this lengthy waiting list is only getting worse. It reached the point where my parents felt they didn’t want to wait any longer and they just wanted to get me into counselling with someone – so this meant going private. The problem with that is it was expensive. On average a private counselling session can cost “£50-£80 per hour”. This therefore meant that they had less income to spend on things we usually would such as going out for dinner or going on holiday. Should these sacrifices, which would have contributed to the economy really be necessary?

Then of course I reached exam years, and I began to fully notice how much my struggling mental health had impacted my grades. I noticed the way in which my grade average had dropped down from an A to sometimes struggling just to get a C. I began to realise how much my “difficulty concentrating, lack of optimism and difficulty sleeping” was affecting my performance on assessments. Unfortunately, the way I performed in exams would determine my future, what I could do next and whether I could continue studying. For me this meant that I was nowhere near reaching my potential. It ended up that most of the time I couldn’t get an interesting job because of the grades I held. When I did find employment, it never lasted very long, because I found it “difficult to complete tasks or interact with work-peers". Due to being out of work I then didn’t have a stable income so was completely relying on benefits. At this point I was just looking for a way out of it all, so I turned to drugs.

My involvement with drugs contributed to the ever-growing drain I felt I was already having on the economy. The main problem was that due to the already fragile state I was in I was somewhat of an easy target. So, I started to illegally purchase drugs, which I quickly became addicted to. It was here that I realised just how easy it is to get involved with the wrong people. As once you’ve got involved with them it can begin to feel like you’ll never be able to get out. So, you don’t. Instead, you just keep going back, over, and over and over again. Although after a period of time they begin to put the prices up, or demand faster payment, or get more violent, but you still feel like you can’t stop. I can remember my economics teacher at school talking about the price inelastic demand of drugs for addicts. Then of course one thing leads to the next and you get involved in things you shouldn’t have. Thinking about this now, the impact that this must have on the justice system is so detrimental. In order to try and fund my drug habit I was having to try and source “£15,000 to £30,000 per year” which often meant the re-sale of shoplifted items.

Then of course there was the hospital trips, and the ambulance calls which must have cost the public healthcare a system a lot, with funding from taxes and the government. The impact of mental health related call outs on the public health care service is significant with “10% of calls made to the London ambulance service every day being from people experiencing mental health problems”. In my experience I have found that the ambulance call outs I have been responsible for are to do with the fact that I didn’t get the help early enough, and it seems I may not be the only one as “England’s 10 Ambulance crews are spending 1.8m hours, or 75,000 days, each year on call outs to patients with mental health problems.”

So, in conclusion, maybe if I had received the help I needed when I needed it, it would have prevented my contribution to this ever-growing economic problem. I now feel that I owe a debt to society, to the education system and to the healthcare system. My lost years have been a terrible opportunity cost to me and to society. Mental health needs to be the focus of renewed efforts by our government going forward.

Ruth Tarrant

Ruth has been Subject Lead in Economics at tutor2u for many years after a career of teaching Economics, Business, Politics and Maths in a range of secondary schools. She is a highly experienced A level Economics Examiner, and also teaches undergraduate Economics on a very part-time basis at the University of Oxford. Ruth is passionate about making economics fun, engaging and accessible.

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