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Let's Get Our Heads Together and Improve Mental Health Support for Children and Young People

24/05/2016 17:07 | Updated 24 May 2016

Last week I had a really good chat with several other charity CEOs as we met with their Royal Highnesses, the Duchess and Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry at the launch of the Heads Together campaign at the Queen Elizabeth Park in London.

It is always stimulating to talk with others on an issue as important as mental health, not least in that getting more people to talk more about mental health is one of the key planks of the campaign. This welcome initiative comes at a time when mental health is really under the spotlight, especially that of children and young people, the area that the Anna Freud Centre specialises in.

Mental health is the single largest cause of disability in the UK, and half of adult mental health problems begin in childhood with suicide the second most common cause of death amongst young men. At the same time, fewer than 35% of young people with mental health problems get any help at all. The cost of mental ill health in England is currently £105billion each year, and without effective intervention and treatment these costs will double in the next 20 years.

This is too big and important an issue to tackle alone, which is why it is so welcome that Heads Together is built on the partnership of organisations like ours looking to change things for the better. Partnership, collaboration and co-operation are the key words - everyone with a stake in better mental health needs to work together to really make a difference.

This isn't just about attitude, it is about doing something practical, it is about looking at how we can engender much greater integration and partnership into the system itself, specifically within those services supporting children and young people. It is about being clear and positive in relation to something that people feel confused about and frightened of.

The question is how we can change things now so that the future can be better. NHS England is doing a terrific job to bring about a transformation of child mental health services. But services need the support of organizations such as the Anna Freud Centre and the others round this morning's Royal Foundation round table to make the step change of integration that is required of them.

In a recent survey of schools that we commissioned, teachers and other school staff see the limited capacity of existing Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) as the greatest barrier to ensuring children and young people get the support they need. However, many of the schools surveyed did provide mental health support themselves. 577 school staff from 341 schools in England were asked about the provision of specialist mental health support in their school including what support is available and who provides it.

Over two thirds of schools reported having some specialist support available (e.g. mindfulness, peer support), with specialist provision more common in secondary schools. Most schools used staff training and whole school approaches, to support children and young people with mental health issues. Educational psychologists or counsellors most often provided these services.
So, there is mental health support in many schools but they still see access to external specialist support as a barrier to helping more children and young people. That points to a need for much greater collaboration and joint working between schools and CAMHS, so more can be made of the support that is available.

A recent study from the LSE found that 90% of the additional cost that society incurs in relation to a mental health diagnosis is incurred in schools not just because children need special educational resources such as parental meetings with teachers, extra help provided in the school by teaching staff and learning support assistants. Figures such as these underscore the potential savings that could accrue from more effective and timely management of mental disorders which, as the figures indicate, reach only a minority (probably around 25%) of those who would benefit from such interventions. At the moment, supported by the Department for Education and NHS England, we are leading a consortium of experts to develop and deliver training to over 900 education and mental health professionals, with the aim of improving joint working between schools and CAMHS, really to get them talking more to each other, breaking down any silos that might exist so services can be developed and delivered around the needs and circumstances of children and young people themselves rather than the institutions who deliver them.

Talking therapies are an important part of the treatment mix for mental health problems, so it is entirely fitting that we need to encourage more talking and coordinated action amongst all of those with a stake in better mental health, if we going to turn the tide on the issue, especially for children and young people.

Professor Peter Fonagy, Chief Executive, Anna Freud Centre

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