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Beyond Brexit: Children's Mental Health And The General Election

07/06/2017 11:57 | Updated 21 July 2017
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There has been a rare outbreak of agreement in Westminster this election, with all major political parties finally recognising the importance of prioritising the mental health of children and young people.

As we approach a monumental decision about the country's future beyond Brexit, we must ask what we value and how the promises of the parties align with these values. It is difficult, because often we cannot measure what we value, so we measure what we can, and eventually, what we measure becomes what we value. Today we have a political and economic system that values the nation's GDP above all else as its measure of prosperity and growth, yet on a personal level, few if any of us think about prosperity in terms of GDP. Although useful as one macroeconomic measure, many of us would think that the health and happiness of our children and young people is a much more meaningful measure of how we are progressing as a society.

That said, we have had an encouraging year which has seen mental health rise up the policy agenda, with the manifestos of the three main parties in England specifically mentioning children and young people's mental health. When 50% of adult mental health problems are established in childhood by the age of 14, it is promising to see leaders setting their sights on the role of schools in responding to one of the defining challenges of our generation.

There is much to be welcomed in the manifestos, with Labour, Conservatives and Lib Dems all giving a nod of acknowledgement to the role that schools will have to play if we're ever to reverse the rising tide of mental ill-health in young people. The Children and Young People's Mental Health Coalition has been calling for schools to be better supported to in turn support the mental health of their pupils after it emerged last year that 65% of headteachers said they struggled to get mental health services for pupils and 55% reported a large rise in pupils with anxiety and stress.

Eight in ten headteachers also say they want to see Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) expanded in their area. There is wide variation in access to services across the country, some areas with huge waiting lists, and others with next to none. Stories in the media have shone a light on some of the worst cases where young people have been sent many miles away from their homes to access mental health support and now, Labour, Conservatives and Lib Dem's have all vowed to end out of area placements.

There's a lot to unpick in the new manifestos, so here are our top 5 pledges from each of the three main parties which we believe would be crucial steps in the right direction.

Conservatives:
• Mental Health First Aid Training will be rolled out in both primary and secondary schools before the end of the next parliament.
• Pledged to transform how mental health is regarded in the workplace, training one million members of the public in basic mental health awareness and first aid to break the stigma of mental illness.
• Ensure that every school has a single point of contact with mental health services.
• Every child will learn about mental wellbeing and the mental health risks of internet harms in the curriculum.
• Reform Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services so that children with serious conditions are seen within an appropriate timeframe and no child has to leave their local area and their family to receive normal treatment.

Labour:
• £30 billion in extra health and social care funding, with a new £250 million Children's Health Fund to support ambitions for a preventative healthcare drive, ensuring that all mental health budgets are ring-fenced to ensure funding reaches the frontlines.
• Increase the number of health visitors and school nurses.
• A National Care service for England which would first set out to address the funding crisis in social care.
• Extend schools-based counselling to all schools to improve children's mental health, at a cost of £90 million per year.
• End cuts to youth services.

Liberal Democrats:
• Raise additional £6 billion which will be used to fund priority areas including mental health
• Ensure that all front-line public service professionals, including in schools and universities, receive better training in mental health.
• Tackle bullying in schools, including bullying on the basis of gender, sexuality, gender identity or gender expression.
• Examine the case for introducing a dedicated service for children and young people based on the Australian 'headspace' model and building on many excellent youth information, advice and counselling services.
• Ensure that no one in crisis is turned away, with new waiting time standards and better crisis care in accident and emergency departments, in the community and via phone lines. This will enable us to end the use of police cells for people facing a mental health crisis.

As with all pre-election promises, warm words are no substitute for delivery. We will be calling on whoever is voted into number 10 on the 8th of June to take up a Prime Minister's Children and Young People's Mental Health Challenge. This would be modelled on the hugely successful Dementia Challenge led by David Cameron when he was in power.

Having a challenge led by No.10 would cut through barriers to implementation ambitious manifesto pledges and ensure that all children and young people get the support they need. A public structured challenge is the only way to ensure that Children's mental health does not fall by the wayside as a priority as the next government focus on Brexit negotiations. Investing in children and young people's is an investment in the long-term prosperity of a post-Brexit Britain.

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