Child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) in the UK are “complex” and “fragmented”, leaving many kids with a poor experience of care.
These were the findings from a Care Quality Commission report in October 2017, which also stated that people who work with children and young people do not always have the skills or capacity to identify mental health problems.
Annie, a volunteer on YoungMinds’ parents’ helpline, who didn’t want to share her surname, hears from parents who are desperate to get their children help, every week.
“The biggest issue they face is the difficulty obtaining a CAMHS assessment for their child,” she said. “The majority of parents know when a child is in need of professional help, but accessing that help is increasingly difficult.”
Roughly three children in every classroom have a diagnosable mental health disorder and almost one in four children and young people show some evidence of mental ill health.
To mark Children’s Mental Health Week, HuffPost UK asked parents what they believed needed to happen to improve child mental health services in the UK.
More fully-trained mental health staff to reduce waiting times
According to YoungMinds, the average waiting time for a first appointment with CAMHS is six months, with a 10-month wait until the start of treatment.
But Cathal Morrow, a single dad from south London, had to wait 18 months to access CAMHS services for his 11-year-old son, who has PTSD.
Morrow received “excellent support” from social services and CAMHS, but says the waiting times were far too long as they are “massively stretched” and underfunded. He believes having more trained staff available to take on children could reduce these waiting times.
“A year ago, my son was admitted to hospital for a week, and this finally gave us access to the CAMHS services,” he said. “His therapist is amazing, and is really helping him. It’s a long road, though.”
Morrow’s thoughts on lack of staff are borne out by the fact that CAMHS are turning away nearly a quarter (23%) of children referred to them for treatment by concerned parents, carers, GPs and teachers, as they are too over-stretched to cope with the need for services.
“Most parents instinctively realise that early intervention is key in stopping any mental health issue becoming intractable, but they can be left in limbo for many weeks or even months waiting for the appointment,” said Annie.
“The shortage of qualified child and adolescent metal health professionals is becoming acute. Whilst there is more talk about the importance of good mental health, the government needs to show parents that there is a plan to train more of the professionals needed and to create a joined-up service that is easier to access.”
“CAMHS do an amazing job, but there just aren’t enough staff to go around,” Morrow continued. “They’re leaving in their droves, as they’ve had salaries cut. My son’s therapist is just one of two therapists covering four London boroughs, which is insane.
“There is a real child mental health crisis at the moment, for a number of reasons, and the government has to put far more money behind child mental health provision.”
Smoother referral process from GP to specialist service
Sharon Pillay, from north Lincolnshire, has a six-year-old son, Xavier, who has ADHD and autism and suffers with social anxiety. When Xavier started school, Pillay noticed her son’s lack of ability to settle and mix with his peers, and was advised to seek professional help.
“By his second year of school, our boy was angry, upset and generally confused,” says Pillay. “We approached our GP for a CAMHS referral. We were very sceptical and apprehensive.”
Pillay said her experience was “anything but negative”, adding: “We were referred and within four weeks we’d had a pre-assessment done.”
However, Pillay does believe a swifter referral process is needed.
“We were very lucky with our GP, but as we started to ask questions about who to speak to or how do we get to speak to someone, there is a tendency to pass you on to others who will then do the same,” she said. “This needs to change.”
A closer collaboration between school and GPs
Penny’s eldest son was admitted to a psychiatric ward in 2011. He experimented with drugs from the age of 14 and developed schizophrenia when he was 21. Penny believes that the drug brought on the illness. At the age of 22, he had already made a suicide attempt.
The mum, from Oxford, believes teenagers’ mental health needs should be better supported by schools working together with GPs and mental health services.
“When our son and his friends were discovered by the school to be cannabis users, some of the pupils were expelled and the ones who weren’t were subsequently drug tested regularly by the school,” explained Penny, who writes on her blog ‘Letting The Light In’ about her experiences of facing drug addiction within a family. “So the school’s reaction was disciplinary, instead of looking at the underlying causes of drug use, such as self-medicating stress and depression.”
Penny believes if the government were to encourage schools to increase their pastoral care in conjunction with the mental health services, “that would be a good start”.
Improvement of services for those with a dual diagnosis
Steph Curtis, 45, a mum and blogger from Hertfordshire, has a 10-year-old daughter who has autism and high anxiety levels. She believes dealing with those who have a mental health diagnosis as well as autism is an area that all mental health services need more training in.
“When dealing with autistic people, approaches to mental health may need to be varied and different from typical strategies used,” Curtis says.
“There’s a real need for specialists in this area; I’ve heard from many parents who feel their children aren’t being understood, especially in cases where the children are unable to communicate well themselves.”
Make a wider range of therapies available
YoungMinds has surveyed parents whose children have been in mental health hospitals. Only 43% felt that their child’s mental health has improved while in hospital, while 54% say that they have seen no improvement. A quarter think their child’s mental health has deteriorated a lot.
Paula Kennedy, 53, from Oxfordshire, who is the author of several therapy books for children, has three daughters - 19, 21 and 25 - two of whom have had access to mental health services.
“I definitely think there should be more therapies like Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), mindfulness, meditation, children’s yoga, in schools,” she said. “It would be a great start in reducing anxiety and stress in the classroom. I have seen first-hand many of these therapies working very well in schools.
“GP services could be improved massively by offering or supporting a much wider range of therapies so they can offer a much better service to their patients and not just dishing out prescriptions.”
For more information and support:
PAPYRUS: Children and parents can contact HOPELineUK for advice and support from the national charity dedicated to the prevention of young suicide. It is confidential and you will not be judged. Call 0800 0684141, text 07786209697 or email email@example.com.
Childline: Remind your child that Childline is there to give them free, confidential support and advice, 24 hours a day on 0800 1111 or at www.childline.org.uk.
YoungMinds: The parents helpline offers 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. Call 0808 8025544.