ONE of the most troubling phenomena in recent years has been the increase in the numbers of children and young people suffering from mental health problems.

Experts have conducted various studies as to why this might be and, although there are no definitive answers, there are clear associations that crop up in a high percentage of those youngsters with issues.

Risk factors associated with poor mental health aren’t hugely surprising. Living in a family where the parents have financial, relationship, or mental health problems, spending too much time on social media and comparing yourself to people you’ve never met have all been identified.

Whatever the causes, the fact is that there is a rising number of children — even from early primary school age — suffering from severe anxiety or depression.

It is not hyperbole to describe that as a crisis and it should worry us all.

Mental illness can affect anyone any time. It does not respect status, wealth, gender or age.

One huge leap forward in the past couple of decades is society’s shift in attitudes towards mental illness.

Not so long ago, depression wasn’t even necessarily seen as an illness, more a state of mind that could be remedied by ‘pulling yourself together’.

It is that kind of attitude that often prevented sufferers from openly talking about their illness and thus being treated.

Thankfully, that has — by and large — changed for the better. There is much more of an understanding that poor mental health can hit anyone at any time.

Two (entirely different) stories in this week’s The Bolton News referenced mental health.

The first was coverage of the Arthur Miller play The Last Yankee, which is being performed — brilliantly — at the newly created Library Theatre in the basement of Bolton’s magnificent Library and Museum.

It tells the story of two married couples. The wives are being treated for anxiety and depression in an American psychiatric hospital in the early 1990s.

The play is directed by the University of Bolton’s Professor of Theatre David Thacker, who believes its insight and themes — of denial, misunderstanding and despair as everyone affected tries to cope with mental illness — are as relevant today as ever.

It was written at a time when the mental health timebomb was ticking silently away in the background.

Encouragingly, though, the play’s overriding message is one of hope. And that leads me on to the other article, again involving the University of Bolton.

Working with Manchester charity Medequip4Kids, the university’s psychology department has developed a programme, being delivered in Greater Manchester schools, to tackle mental health issues in young people before they become overwhelming.

The Hummingbird Project aims to teach children self-confidence and the power of positive psychology and help them to learn to cope with the blows that life inevitably throws at you.

The earlier a person can have equip themselves with these defences the better; it is a fantastic scheme.

It would be amazing if this programme, developed in Bolton and delivered by Bolton man Ian Platt, could eventually be rolled out across the country into all schools — and, who knows, go some way towards beginning to defuse that timebomb.