THE BLOG

As a Nation, We Have a Short-Sighted Approach to Children's Mental Health

12/04/2016 09:03

One in ten young people have a mental health problem. That's the equivalent of three in every classroom, yet less than 1% of NHS funding is spent on young people's mental health. Yesterday's report by the CentreForum commission outlines serious issues with access to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), with waiting times shown to have doubled in the last two years and with some under 18's waiting up to two and a half years to access services.

The report emerges against a backdrop of concerns in the mental health sector about the lack of funding and early intervention services. By intervening early, crisis can be averted, yet as a nation we have a short-sighted approach to children's mental health. It is an approach that measures a child's eligibility for accessing CAMHS services based on whether they have been unwell for a long enough period of time for their condition to be considered serious. A child's first meaningful involvement with the mental health services cannot continue to be after their condition has already reached crisis point.

It is crucial to remember that Children's and Adolescent Mental Health Services are part of a larger system. When you remove funding and collapse one part of the system, the pressure naturally amasses elsewhere. This is especially relatable to the many cuts we are seeing to council funded work, which is usually focussed on prevention and early intervention.

The government says that children's and young people's mental health is now a priority for them and I don't doubt their sincerity. However, there is a lack of joined up thinking whereby they are reluctant to specifically outline what local authorities should do, effectively creating hundreds of nets with many holes for mental health as a priority to fall through. Differing priorities among different local authorities means that preserving and campaigning for equitable investment in mental health is markedly more difficult.

Some of the examples we are hearing about of children waiting up to two and a half years to access services depending on where they live, amount to a dangerous postcode lottery. The disparity in waiting times across the country urgently needs to be addressed. Transforming services will take sustained commitment, equitable investment and a more consistent approach. It is equally important that any investments in services are ring-fenced, last year we saw a £1.25bn investment in CAMHS announced, yet to date very little of this seems to have reached the front line.

We need an equitably funded and coordinated system that brings a range of professionals and agencies together, including the NHS, voluntary sector organisations and education. It is important to remember that this is not about not knowing what needs to be done; we already know what works. This is about funding pressures and fragmentation which are preventing the implementation of more coordinated systems from being possible. We know that we desperately need a more consistent approach to mental health, yet as a nation the only thing consistent in our approach to date has been the chronic short sightedness.

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