Rise of Legal Highs #legalhighs

shutterstock_218274139There has been a disturbing global increase in New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) – often called ‘legal highs’ – and nowhere, currently, are they more prevalent than in the UK.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the UK has the biggest market for legal highs in the whole of the EU. The World Drug Report states that 670,000 Britons aged 15-24 have tried them at least once.

Legal highs often have similar effects to cannabis, heroin and amphetamines, and are sold as uppers, downers or hallucinogenics on the UK high street and over the internet. Since legal highs cannot be sold for human consumption, they are often sold as plant food, incense, or salts. The trouble is that buyers cannot be certain what the product will contain, and adverse effects cannot be predicted.  These substances are not controlled yet because there is not enough information on them to base a decision. However, ‘legal highs’ are increasingly being researched to identify the dangers and determine if they should be made illegal.

Legal highs have been directly associated with anti-social behaviour, causing some of the same problems as illegal drug use. Some users of legal highs steal to get the money for their fix, and drug-induced behaviour often leads to criminal activity and endangerment.

In Morriston, Swansea, “new psychoactive substances have become the biggest cause of anti-social behaviour”, Councillor Andrea Lewis said. “We had young people behaving erratically, literally running out into the street into oncoming traffic.”

Police forces in Wales have seen incidents involving legal highs increase from 18 in 2012 to twenty times that many: 371 in 2014.

A BBC News investigation discovered that legal highs can be more addictive than some illegal drugs – and are getting stronger. Benzofuran and Mephedrone have even been banned. However, as soon as certain substances are made illegal, new ones are produced and on sale.

Some people are seriously affected by legal highs, and doctors are concerned.

“We are seeing increasing numbers of people going into mental health units with acute psychotic episodes after having taken some of these legal substances,” said Julia Lewis, Clinical Director for adult and specialist mental health services. “We are hearing of quite young people having heart attacks; I treated one 17-year-old boy who’d had a small heart attack on one of these substances.”

To receive help and signposting to organisations offering advice and support with drug issues, contact the BBC Action Line on 08000 680 118

Or contact FRANK, the drugs information agency directly, 24/7/365, on 0300 123 6600

Georges Petitjean

Founder, Arthur Coaching

Arthur trains individuals to become professional Young People Coaches. Our mission is to facilitate access to quality leadership coaching for young people.


Girls really do mature quicker than boys, scientists find

shutterstock_200798993According to the nursery rhyme, little girls are made of ‘sugar and spice and all things nice’ – while boys are made of ‘slugs and snails and puppy dog tails’. Of course, this isn’t scientific fact. However, neuroscience is discovering that there are gender differences that are less obvious than visible physical characteristics.

It is well-known that girls mature faster than boys. We can see this from the evidence of physical changes if we visit a Year 7 classroom. With a few exceptions, 11-12-year-olds are largely an assortment of post-pubescent, apparently mature young women, and pre-pubescent immature little boys, despite sharing the same ages. If there are differences in body development, what differences are there in brain development and psychological maturity?

Newcastle University scientists have discovered that girls’ brains begin maturing at the age of 10, whereas some men don’t experience the same development of those organisational structures until they are 20. In other words, girl’s brains can develop up to ten years sooner than boys’.

Newcastle University was experimenting on how the brain stores information when researchers discovered that brain maturation ‘prunes’ information and focuses on what is important.

“We found there is a difference between boys and girls in terms of development,” Dr Marcus Kaiser said. “We found that the brain begins to prune neural connections which it does not think are important.”

This may happen when a girl is 10 years old, but in the case of boys, the same process may not occur until they are 15-20 years old.

During this pruning process, similar memories, sounds or sights appearing several times in the brain are shut down. This is useful in ridding the brain of extraneous or duplicated information. Important connections, such as linking a familiar person’s voice to their face, are preserved.

“The loss of connectivity during brain development can actually help to improve brain function by reorganizing the network more efficiently,” Researcher Sol Lim said. “Say, instead of talking to many people at random, asking a couple of people who have lived in the area for a long time is the most efficient way to know your way. In a similar way, reducing some projections in the brain helps to focus on essential information.”

“Previous studies have shown that the brain does a lot of re-organising during puberty. There is greater activity during this time,” said Dr Kaiser. “But it was rather unexpected to find that these changes were starting much earlier in girls, in comparison with boys. Around 10 to 12, you start to see a lot of activity in the brains of girls as this pruning takes place, but it was between 15 to 20 for boys.”

The EPSRC-funded Human Green Brain project examines human brain development. This research work is part of this project, and details are published in the journal Cerebral Cortex.

Georges Petitjean

Founder, Arthur Coaching

Arthur trains individuals to become professional Young People Coaches. Our mission is to facilitate access to quality leadership coaching for young people.


shutterstock_118972225There is a great deal of intolerance in the world today. Not just on a global scale, in war zones and the Islamic State. Not only in national and local pockets of anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic activities reported in the media, either. There is evidence of everyday sexism, ageism, racism, intolerance and other disrespect of differences, in all walks of life.

How can we encourage young people to tolerate and respect diversity or difference?

Our identities have various characteristics, including: gender, ethnicity, race, language, sexual orientation, family composition, relationship status, religion or belief system and socioeconomic status. These characteristics can be used to define us; to differentiate or categorise us – and to create an impression of our identities based on what is ‘known’. However, these impressions are also informed by what we don’t know – our assumptions, bias or prejudice.

A 2014 survey in the United States from the Pew Research Center measured ‘familiarity’ and ‘warmness’ toward certain religious/non-religious groups. The “warmest” ratings went to Jews, Catholics and evangelical Christians. But Muslims, Hindus, Mormons, Buddhists and atheists received “colder, more negative” ratings.  This survey also reports that a person knowing someone personally from a certain group gives them more positive views of that group; whilst not knowing anyone from that group leads to more negative impressions and opinions. Again, if not actual fear of the unknown, this certainly suggests distrust or wariness of unknown groups.

Playground bullying, prejudice and gang rivalry, like terrorism and war, are signs of intolerance. People are taught to fear things that are different, or unknown. This results in responses ranging from ignorance and rudeness to ridicule and violence. Yet, differences add to the richness and diversity of our world. What if everyone learned that ‘difference’ is natural? With respect, understanding and acceptance, it could be embraced.

If racism, sexism and general disrespect are not addressed, meaningful society cannot exist. When young people make comments that are ‘off’, we should offer constructive criticism and different ways of thinking, rather than just complaining or admonishing them. Our reaction will help build sensitivity and respect and can prevent the young person from being defensive. Instead of using a judgmental word or statement, they might simply notice, “That’s different.”

If every child grew up accepting that every single person has equal rights – how different would the world be?

Georges Petitjean

Founder, Arthur Coaching

Arthur trains individuals to become professional Young People Coaches. Our mission is to facilitate access to quality leadership coaching for young people.

Saving Young People

shutterstock_132478784For many young workers, after rent, living expenses, student loan or credit-card payments and incidentals, there’s not much left over, making it difficult to even imagine saving.

For those without jobs, it’s easy to get into debt just paying for essentials like food. Pleasure has to be taken where you can get it. Saving seems impossible.

A report into debt by Demos found that 22% of 18-to 24-year-olds say their debt has ‘increased a lot’, compared with 4% of those aged over 65.

A relatively small number of young people (30% of 18-24 year olds and 22% of those 25-34) put their debts down to investing in their future (regarded by Demos as a positive cause of debt). But the majority feature negative explanations for debt, including unexpected expenses (28% and 35% for the two age groups) and help to pay for the basics – 27% and 28% respectively.

Managing money can be difficult for young people. They don’t have much, generally, and their motivation to save up for the future is weak. When you’re young, ‘the future’ is either tomorrow or a long way off – and retirement is so far away, it’s unthinkable.

Living in the moment – having fun now and worrying later – is the strategy of many young people, which accounts for rising credit-card debt. So how is a 20-something to save? Here are some strategies to support young people with budgeting – or even to use for yourself:

Set goals. Start tracking your spending. You might be surprised to see where your money is actually going.

Use the 50-20-30 rule: Look to spend 50% of your budget on fixed costs like rent, utilities and car payments; 20% toward financial goals like building an emergency fund, paying off credit-card debt or saving; and 30% toward flexible spending like groceries, entertainment or shopping.

Prioritize setting aside one month’s net income in a separate savings account for emergencies. Ultimately, work toward saving six months’ income.

Next, work on paying down so-called “bad debt,” like high-interest credit-card debt.

Automate. Set up a direct debit or a recurring automated transfer so that a fixed amount goes directly into your savings account without ever touching your current account.

Self-audit. Think about all the various subscriptions you have to magazines and entertainment sites like Netflix, Hulu and Spotify—or even satellite or cable. Do you really need all of them? Cancel at least two subscriptions.

Just say no. Going out, meeting friends, and being sociable often costs money – for eating, drinking, travel. If you do it often, it all adds up. Plan for the month, budgeting for known, important events like a friend’s birthday dinner. If other spontaneous invitations come up, you can choose whether or not you say yes.

Cash only. If you have a tendency to overspend on credit cards, go all-cash. Abandon your credit card and carry sufficient cash for what you need that day. If you run out of cash, you can’t spend any more.

With some financial understanding and planning, young people can have fun today, and feel secure for the future.

Georges Petitjean

Founder, Arthur Coaching

Arthur trains individuals to become professional Young People Coaches. Our mission is to facilitate access to quality leadership coaching for young people.

No vote of confidence for young people?

shutterstock_191060654You can easily tell that 2015 is the year of a general election, with political parties slinging mud at one another and vying for votes. They have a lot to achieve in this age of disillusionment and general apathy, in which many people feel disengaged from politics. This problem is much worse in the case of young adults – who “don’t do politics”.

An Ipsos Mori poll in 2010 reveals that the last national average election turnout was 65% of the whole electorate; but only 44% of 18-24 year-olds voted – less than any other age group. So far, there is no real evidence of improvement for this year. Young people have lost interest or don’t care, and are feeling neglected and disenfranchised. If they don’t vote, the political parties won’t make a great effort to win them over – because they are too busy pleasing people who will actually turn up at the polling station to vote.

With 4 million under 25s not even registered to vote, the major political parties are more concerned to promote policies that support older voters. However, many politicians are now overtly trying to attract young people’s votes.

To make informed choices, young people need information. Parents are a considerable influence on young people’s attitudes and voting preferences, but information also needs to be gleaned from school and the media. We live in the Information Age but young people seem to know more about celebrity gossip and cat videos than local, national and global issues. Social media could be harnessed to answer political problems.

Many people say they aren’t interested in politics, without realising that politics is all around them. Scratch beneath the surface, and even the most apathetic person cares about issues that affect them – even if it’s the price of beer, petrol or cigarettes, let alone the NHS or housing, wages, taxes, war and employment. Even if people won’t come to the political arena, politics comes to them. There are issues which deeply affect young people, like the scarcity of jobs and student debt. Skills are being undervalued – with the rise of training schemes, unpaid internships and Welfare to Work schemes, many are expected to work for free, or poor pay. Low wages, zero hours contracts and impossible house prices mean that young people struggle to pay for housing for years – if they can afford to leave the family home at all.

It is young people who face the future created by decision-makers today. They are the ones who will be facing the effects of climate change, poverty, and depletion of resources on a global scale. They will have to deal with the perfect storm of financial, housing, food and energy crises to come. All the more reason why young people should be actively involved in voting on policies and issues that concern them, and making their voices heard.

Will young people realise the importance of making an informed choice – and actually vote?

Politicians tend to care about votes when it comes to making election promises. As long as young people remain disengaged, it won’t pay for politicians to address their issues. Turning out to vote on 7th May – literally voting with their feet – means that their opinions will matter to politicians in future. Young people can become a force to be reckoned with.

Georges Petitjean

Founder, Arthur Coaching

Arthur trains individuals to become professional Young People Coaches. Our mission is to facilitate access to quality leadership coaching for young people.

What’s up Doc? Young people spurn GPs

shutterstock_118165540Young Britons are turning their backs on GP surgeries. Increasing numbers of 18-to 34-year-olds go straight to overstretched A&E departments because they cannot get suitable appointments with their family doctor. It seems that health services are failing to match modern lifestyles.

A report by Citizens Advice Bureau finds that people aged 18 to 34 are far less likely than older people to be able to see a GP when they need to. Instead, they are more than twice as likely to attend A&E departments or walk-in centres as those aged 55 and over.

Despite successive governments’ promises to make GP services more accessible, the NHS still fails to cater for a working population wanting family doctors to be available at times to suit busy working lives. Young adults were more than twice as likely to be unable to secure a GP appointment at a convenient time than older people. 14% of 18-34-year-olds could not see a GP the last time they tried to make an appointment, compared with 6% aged 55 or over. One in eight (13%) of younger adults did not get any professional help for a health problem after failing to see their GP.

Also, levels of satisfaction and trust in the GP service were dramatically lower amongst young people than amongst pensioners. 30% of young adult respondents said their experience of GPs was “very good”, compared with 64% of those over 75.

Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said failure to treat younger people outside hospital would add to the financial pressures on the NHS. “GP services need to keep up with 21st-century lifestyles. With many younger adults out at work, it can be difficult for them to get an appointment with a GP, particularly at a convenient time. As a result, some people are struggling to access the medical advice they need.

“It is in the NHS’s interest to get primary healthcare for younger adults right and ensure services fit around busy working lives. A failure to meet their needs piles more pressure on budgets,” Guy said.

Citizens Advice found that young people often prefer to use walk-in centres instead of GPs, but nearly a quarter of these seven-day-a-week, 24-hour centres had closed since 2010.

Sitting for hours in the early morning with the phone on redial doesn’t suit young people with busy lives. It’s easier to call into hospital out of office hours if they feel ill. Sadly, too many young people give up and do not seek professional help at all. When their health deteriorates, it adds further pressure to NHS budgets.

A Department of Health spokesman said: “We’re giving the NHS £150m to develop new ways of improving GP access for millions of people, including 8am to 8pm appointments seven days a week, as well as email and Skype consultations. Next month commuters will also be able to register at a surgery near work.”

The data from this research will inflame the fraught debate over the future of the NHS: a key issue in this year’s general election campaign.

Georges Petitjean

Founder, Arthur Coaching

Arthur trains individuals to become professional Young People Coaches. Our mission is to facilitate access to quality leadership coaching for young people.