A damning report released this week on the state of mental health services in England has laid bare the "seriously underfunded" help being given to children, one-in-ten of whom suffer from a cognitive condition.
Critics lamented the "shocking" failings highlighted in an NHS commissioned 'Five year forward view for mental health', warning that problems manifested in childhood would only get worse in adult life if left untreated.
The original document, authored by 'Mind' chief executive Paul Farmer, sparked a pledge by health service bosses to commit £1bn annually by 2020/2021. But it was a move - by Farmer's own admission - that "is not enough to get us to the full parity of esteem that everybody talks about and wants".
Barnardo's, the UK's largest children's charity, was the first to hit out at statistics showing those from low-income families are three times more likely to have a diagnosable problem, such as ADHD, depression or anxiety.
Specifically, poorer children suffering from conduct disorder - persistent, disruptive and aggressive behaviour - were twice as likely to leave school without qualifications, three times more likely to become a teenage parent, four times more likely to become dependent on drugs and 20 times more likely to end up in prison.
“Too many children and young people don’t get the support they need from mental health services early enough to help them succeed in later life," Javed Khan, Barnardo's chief executive told The Huffington Post UK, attacking current treatment quality and access.
"Shockingly, this report demonstrates this is particularly true for children from poor families.
The charity chief said more efforts and funding should be devoted to treat mental ailments before they developed and became worse; the Mental Health Task-force's analysis found poor mental health costs the economy, NHS and society £105 billion a year.
“Mental health problems should be treated the same as physical health problems," Khan said. "Focussing on early treatment could avoid the long terms costs of poor outcomes when conditions are left untreated.”
Another leading mental health charity, YoungMinds, which offers support and advice to under 18-year-olds, hailed a welcome cash injection of £1bn by the government but bemoaned a services system which suffered from decades of under-investment.
YoungMinds' Sarah Brennan
“The reality is that the next few years will be extremely tough for CAMHS [Child and Adolescent Mental Health services], which have been seriously underfunded for decades," chief executive Sarah Brennan told Huff Post UK.
She called on health secretary Jeremy Hunt to make sure the money would "transform" access and quality of care for children suffering with a mental illness, rather than simply to pay off current deficits in the NHS.
"It is crucial that the extra investment that the government has recently announced is used to transform mental health services for children, and not to plug existing gaps.
CHILD MENTAL HEALTH IN STATS:
- 0.6% of NHS budget spent on child mental health care
- 14 - age when half of all mental health problem are established
- 1 in 10 - number of kids who have a diagnosable problem
- 4 - years pysciatrich bed occupancy has risen
- 2020/21 - year when 70,000 more young people will get help
"Otherwise too many young people and parents will continue to struggle to get the support they so urgently need.”
Brennan echoed the view that investment to stem behavioural and mental health problems developing in teenage, and later adult years, would spare millions more pounds being spent to combat long-lasting and life-threatening future ailments.
"Investing in services and support for these young people at an early age not only reduces their bad behaviour but enables them to grow into contributing adults and saves millions in the future," she added.
NHS England accepted recommendations for drastic changes to child mental health services were needed, and vowed to "transform" the much-criticised status quo.
"As a society we must make sure the most vulnerable children get the very best care as quickly and simply as possible and that they are being offered the right services in the right places," a spokesperson told HuffPost UK on Monday evening.
"The new investment of £1bn announced today is not just for adults: it will transform mental health care for people of all ages, building on the £1.4bn committed last year for children and young people.
Farmer and his team of mental health experts who co-ordinated the root-and-branch taskforce have ordered ministers to "drive system-wide transformation" so "measurable improvements" among children could be attained.