The Government Needs to Do More to Support Early Detection of Mental Health Issues in Children and Young People

In the past decade, there has been encouraging progress in awareness and treatment of mental health issues in children and young people. However, there has also been a worryingly huge increase in the number of cases of mental illness being reported. Perhaps this is simply due to more cases being recognised than before, or it’s the increasing pressures of the modern world, or maybe there is a rising level of insecurity amongst young people that stems from our mass use of social media.

Young Minds, a UK charity helping young people and children with mental health issues, has revealed that 1 in 10 children aged between five and sixteen will suffer from a mental health disorder and that nearly 80,000 children and young people currently suffer from severe depression.

Furthermore, over the last ten years, the number of children and teenagers admitted to hospital due to self-harm has increased by a whopping 68%.
The Children’s Commissioner’s review in May 2016 has added to this and discovered that huge numbers of children referred to children and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) can be put on a long waiting list or are sometimes not even given treatment.

They go on to add that this issue varies largely amongst different areas of the UK, suggesting that good access to CAMHS is a bit of a “postcode lottery”.

These worrying statistics indicate that mental health issues are no longer just an adult problem and that even children at primary school level are being diagnosed with serious and sometimes life-threatening mental health problems. This evidence has suggested the need for schools to take on greater responsibility in identifying and helping to support children and young people with mental health issues to help prevent these problems developing.

These issues have not gone unnoticed by the government, and in March 2016 the Department of Education released a new guidance paper for schools regarding mental health and behaviour. The paper outlines advice and tools that will aid schools in identifying mental health problems amongst their pupils, as well as the correct ways in dealing with any issues that arise. This demonstrates the government’s encouragement of schools to take a lead in promoting support and help for mental health in their schools, as well as educating pupils to raise awareness.

While this paper provides important information, how much of this concern is reflected in government policy?
Not a huge amount.

In fact, it is incredibly worrying that while we are seeing a rise in reported mental health cases amongst young people, the government has chosen to go ahead with planned welfare cuts and a reduction in the provision to schools and vulnerable children. The Children’s Society released a report in March this year revealing that there are strong evidential links between child poverty and an increased chance of mental health issues, thus the government’s welfare cuts could greatly increase the proportion of children living in poverty and exacerbate mental health problems.

Additionally, a report released by the Department of Health suggested that the “economic case for investment [in mental health] is strong” as supporting those with mental health issues early on helps prevent the development of those issues and thus more expensive treatments in adulthood.

With the multitude of studies suggesting more needs to be done to prevent early development of mental health issues, it is important that all primary and secondary schools in the UK develop awareness programmes and support networks to help children and young people facing mental health difficulties. A good start would be with easy access to councillors at least once a week in schools, and more support for school nurses to prevent understaffing.

The government has pledged a spend of £1.4 billion on CAMHS by 2020, but this is not enough and their simultaneous decrease in funds to the NHS and local authorities means that early detection and support of mental health problems is made more difficult. It is more crucial now than ever that the government provides substantial backing to schools, local councils and the NHS to help them better diagnose and support children and young people with mental health issues. It is not only economically beneficial in the long run; it will also provide a more optimistic future and better opportunities for these children.

If you need support, or perhaps just some information, visit:http://www.youngminds.org.uk/

Hannah Scott — Teachers Register