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It's Time To End The Consistently Inconsistent Approach To Children's Mental Health

30/11/2016 08:09
Stefan Muran via Getty Images

It is often said that the first step to resolving a problem is recognising that you have one in the first place. In this regard, when it comes to children and young people's mental health, you could say that we are well on the road to resolving the lack of available support. There is near uniformity from policy makers - inside and outside of Westminster and Whitehall - that something needs to be done about the looming crises in children and young people's mental health. Politicians of all stripes, and government after government, promise to do something about it, yet the problem remains acute as ever and in many people's opinion, is getting worse.

This consistently inconsistent approach (or cognitive dissonance) was on full display last week, when despite much noise from the new government about both children's mental health and social care; neither was mentioned in the Chancellor's Autumn Statement.

This prompted the Children and Young People's Mental Health Coalition to write to The Times, with our letter published today.

Children and young people's mental health requires a whole system approach. The NHS is a key player, but you need to fix the whole system to make it work, and that includes social care. Any advances we make in children and young people's mental health could be undermined if they are not matched by sensible investment in social care.

We also know that despite being a Government priority, the additional funding for Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) isn't getting through to the frontline for the NHS, let alone social care. Not addressing the whole system is creating a time bomb, as 75% of adult mental health problems have their roots in childhood, and adults with mental health problems are more likely to have physical health problems and die prematurely.

Health care spending and social care spending are the two ends of the Chinese finger puzzle that need to be pushed at the same time to solve the problem. Many physical and mental health problems cannot be quickly 'fixed' in the traditional medical sense - they can often be long term conditions that require ongoing support and care. But this support is often missing and people end up, understandably, seeking the support of the NHS.

We know social care has taken huge cuts over the last few years. These cuts impact on children and young people's mental health as well as older people. Cuts to social care will impact on the most vulnerable, for instance, those in care and those with learning disabilities. We know that these children and young people have higher levels of mental health problems, so they are doubly disadvantaged if they also find it difficult to get mental health support.

This is largely a moral issue. But it is also a stone cold hearted logical one. If we fail to invest in the children and young people of today, where is the healthy workforce of tomorrow paying for our social and health care costs as we reach the end of our lives?

In sympathy with the policy makers - there are many pressing issues facing the country and it can't be easy to maintain focus on all of the crises that are emerging. This reality has fostered an ongoing culture of acknowledging the issue but doing little to rectify it. But, beyond the thousands of people now struggling through lack of adequate support, this is a system that will collapse one day soon without urgent remedial action.

And the solutions will not be easy. It will require money, commitment and an ability to untangle the complicated way in which we deliver both CAMHS and social care. What is needed is a champion, someone to hold their hand up and say that they are accountable for putting in place the answers to fix the problem. Given the scale of the problem, this goes to the top and no better person is qualified or more appropriate to lead the charge than the Prime Minister.

This is why the Children and Young People's Mental Health Coalition, along with the Education Policy Institute is calling for a Prime Minister's Children and Young People's Mental Health Challenge, which would have funding from Number 10, rather than the NHS budget. It's time for a radical approach to children and young people's mental health; it's time for the Government led by the Prime Minister to deliver change.

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