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A review of mental health services by the government’s Children and Young People’s Mental Health Taskforce has found that too many young people are not getting the help they need and has prompted the government to put into action a five-year plan to improve services.
The Taskforce identified significant challenges facing Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) including funding cuts, gaps in data, increasing difficulties in accessing treatment and a lack of clear leadership and accountability arrangements.
The taskforce’s report, Future in mind: promoting, protecting and improving our children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing, makes a number of proposals that the government wishes to see implemented by 2020. This includes tackling stigma and improving attitudes to mental illness and improving access for children and young people who are particularly vulnerable.
To help implement the measures, the government’s recent budget allowed for £1.25bn to improve mental health services, with a significant proportion directed towards children and young people.
Explaining the issue, the report says: “One in ten children needs support or treatment for mental health problems.
These range from short spells of depression or anxiety through to severe and persistent conditions that can isolate, disrupt and frighten those who experience them.”
Mental health problems in young people can result in lower educational attainment (for example, children with conduct disorder are twice as likely as other children to leave school with no qualifications) and are strongly associated with behaviours that pose a risk to their health, such as smoking, drug and alcohol abuse and risky sexual behaviour.
The report also goes into the economic case for investment. It says that “75 per cent of mental health problems in adult life (excluding dementia) start by the age of 18. Failure to support children and young people with mental health needs costs lives and money. Early intervention avoids young people falling into crisis and avoids expensive and longer term interventions in adulthood. There is a compelling moral, social and economic case for change.”
To tackle the problems, the report recommends a series of measures. This includes the introduction of a ‘one-stop shop’ service in the community, to direct young people to places that can help them. It also stresses the need for a comprehensive set of waiting-time targets for services and the launch of a hard-hitting anti‑stigma campaign.
It also urges that support is continued throughout teenage years and into the early 20s to avoid a loss of support at age 18.
Greater use of online tools and apps to encourage self-help is also outlined, as is improved care as close to home as possible and extra training for GPs and other who work with children, such as staff in schools.
The taskforce’s review, which is part of the Department of Health’s report ‘Making mental health services more effective and accessible’, sets out how much of this can be achieved through better working between the NHS, local authorities, voluntary and community services, schools and other local services. It also makes it clear that many of these changes can be achieved by working differently, rather than needing significant investment.
Commenting on the report, the Mental Health Network’s director of policy, Rebecca Cotton, said: “This report on the future of mental health services for children and young people is particularly timely. We all know that intervening early is vitally important. Around one in ten children aged between 5 and 16 years of age will have a mental health problem, and all too often those children do not currently access the help and support they need.”
In the recent budget, the government announced £1.25bn funding for mental health to help implement the key proposals within the taskforce’s report.
Training in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and schools to improve access to mental health services for children and young people will receive £1.5 million.
£75 million will be spent on improving care for women who experience mental ill health during pregnancy or after giving birth, as maternal mental illness is identified as a common reason why young people develop mental health problems.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said: “I have heard, time and again, harrowing stories from young people and their families about how they suffered and their condition deteriorated waiting to get the right treatment for serious mental health problems.
“That’s why I am determined to start a seismic shift to revolutionise children’s mental healthcare and end this unacceptable injustice.
“By introducing access and waiting time standards and committing to talking therapies for children in every region, we are helping to build a fairer society where young people can get the right treatment and support they deserve to live a better life.”
The money is expected to help treat 110,000 more children over a five‑year period.
Future in mind report: tinyurl.com/lej6pej