THE BLOG

When It Comes to Mental Health, We Are Failing UK Children

27/08/2015 17:13 BST | Updated 27/08/2016 10:59 BST

There's no getting around it: children and young people in the UK are facing serious health challenges. It seems barely a day goes by without a new issue arising, from escalating obesity to increasing mortality rates. But one area remains a consistent problem: children's mental health.

Almost one in 10 children suffer from mental health problems, with one in twelve deliberately self-harming. Almost 300,000 children and young people have an anxiety disorder, while 80,000 children have severe depression and numbers are only on the rise.

The figures not only speak for themselves, they scream from the rooftops - but no one seems to be listening.

Support for children with mental health issues is actually decreasing at alarming speed. £80m has been cut from the NHS mental health budget for children and adolescents in the past four years, including £35m in the last year alone. Without access to help and treatment, children's issues will only continue into adulthood - all the time developing into more serious conditions.

The place where children spend each day, UK schools could provide the answer. The UK school nursing workforce came to London this week for the annual RCN School Nursing Conference - illustrating their wide range of skills, experience and abilities. These men and women could be a solution to the mental health crisis. But we need the right investment.

It is estimated that three children in every class suffers from a mental health issue, with many more going undiagnosed. School nurses have the potential to provide crucial support to pupils suffering from mental health difficulties, whilst raising awareness of this area of health among pupils and education staff. They can also act as a key liaison between children, parents and the health services available in the community, helping them to incorporate mental health support into their daily lives.

However school nursing numbers are falling short as numbers of pupils continue to rise. The already stagnant numbers are now at increased risk due to the Government's £200m cuts to public health services in England.

This lack of resource has significant consequences when it comes to mental health. With a highly stretched remit, covering everything from immunisation to special educational needs, school nurses often have little to no time for mental health care. RCN research has found that school nurses work across 8 schools on average, and one in seven said they felt severely overstretched.

Training is also key. To help nurses and other education staff, the RCN helps to develop resources such as MindEd, an online education platform that provides guidance to identify, understand and support children and young people with mental health issues. It's crucial that school nurses have not only the time but also the skills to deliver effective mental health support to their pupils.

The potential of school nursing does not end with mental health. As key figures within the education system, the workforce is uniquely placed to take on a wide range of issues, from nutrition and weight problems, to sexual health and infection. But as they are overstretched and under resourced they do not always have the opportunity to do all that they would like to.

Mental health problems can affect every aspect of a child's life and if not given the right care they can lead to issues in adulthood. Our children deserve better. Health leaders need to acknowledge the true potential of school nurses and make this a key area for future funding. An investment in school nursing is an investment in our future adult population.