Last week an ICM survey commissioned by patient.co.uk painted a grim picture of the state of young people's mental health in the UK today. With record youth unemployment, university increasingly unaffordable and unprecedented pressure to follow the latest consumer trends is it any wonder that almost half of young people feel stressed about the current economic downturn? As the finance of the nation declines so does our young people's mental health.
The World Health Organisation predicts that by 2030 more people will suffer with depression than any other illness. More stress and strain on young people impacts their mental health and inevitably increases the workload on the NHS and other services. It is vital that we recognise the importance of mental health services or we will be sitting, on a mental health timebomb where service provision cannot cope with ever increasing need.
The government's Mental Health Strategy 'No Health without Mental Health' rightly focuses on early intervention as being the key to reducing pressure on mental health services. The plan is simple, recognise the problem early and offer help and support before a young persons' mental health worsens. Not only is this good for a young person's mental health and wellbeing but it offers a financial benefit for service providers too. As the Children and Young People's Mental Health Coalition points out:
"At a time of increased financial uncertainty and economic constraint, investment in our children and young people's mental health and wellbeing is investment to save and an investment that will pay off in the medium to long term, bringing significant, health, social and economic benefits. Disinvestment would be a wholly false economy, worsening health and increasing costs"
It is vital that we invest in early intervention services and protect the budgets of children and adolescent mental health services. A survey by YoungMinds carried out last year into Children and Adolescent Mental Health Service budgets revealed that more than half of providers were cutting their budgets in 2011/2012.
As the CEO of a voluntary sector organisation I understand the impact that the economic downturn has had on budgets and the need for austerity measures by organisations. However, our analysis of the cuts reveals that it is early intervention services - the ones the government are trying to promote - that are suffering the most severe cutbacks. This is dangerous short-sighted budgeting.
Early intervention services such as school nurses trained to recognise emotional problems can identify issues and offer advice and support before these issues develop into more severe mental illness. Treating more severe problems is more expensive. As the Children and Young People's Mental Health Coalition points out it costs just £995 per family to provide a parenting training programme, the costs per child with severe conduct disorder total are an estimated £70,000 per head.
It is not all bad news, however. As pointed out in YoungMinds CAMHS Cuts briefing, NHS North of the Tyne has invested £1,140,000 in a community treatment service, which was launched in April 2011 and covers Newcastle, Northumberland and North Tyneside. The mobile team provides specialist support and capacity where needed to those with the most complex mental health needs and, where it becomes appropriate, offers support in the home. The service has been developed to support children and young people aged up to 18 who cannot ordinarily be supported by local CAMHS teams and who would otherwise be placed within inpatient or out-of-borough clinical settings.
There are other examples of good practice where commissioners have recognised that early intervention not only improves the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people but also offers them financial savings. However, this is sadly not the norm at a local level.
The localism agenda offers tremendous opportunities to shape services around local need however there are also tremendous risks, while early intervention has been identified at national government level the reality on the ground at local government level often looks very different.
Local health commissioners and providers simply have to invest in early intervention in Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services if we do not want to witness the mental health timebomb explode.
YoungMinds operates a Parents' Helpline which offers a free confidential online and telephone support, including information and advice, to any adult worried about the emotional problems, behaviour or mental health of a child or young person up to the age of 25. You can call free of charge between 9.30am- 4pm Monday- Friday on 0808 802 5544.