Barely a day goes by without me reading or hearing something in the news about Mental Health, especially children's mental health.
This week, BBC News reported both on 'missing' child mental health funds and World Health Organisation (WHO) concerns about over-use of anti-depressants by children.
Something needs to change, and whilst we clearly need more provision at the treatment end - and the funding and a real commitment from government to making this happen - we really need to do more work on prevention, teaching children how to work on their own mental health and giving this the same priority as working on physical health and well-being.
In the BBC article about use of anti-depressants by children, Dr Rebecca Payne, of the Royal College of General Practitioners, is reported as saying that
The mild end the school counsellors pick up. The more severe end can access specialist psychological and psychiatric help. The problem is everybody in the middle.
I know from speaking to teachers in the schools I work with and at conferences, as well as from friends who work in schools, looking after children's welfare, that school counsellors do not 'pick up' the problem at the mild end. There is simply not enough funding provision for school counsellor hours for them to be able to effectively help even a fraction of those children who need their help. As one school welfare officer told me,
GPs tell parents to ask the school for help as we have a counsellor available, but the reality is that we have so few hours to offer, that a child in urgent need of counselling may have to wait six months to a year for very limited support.
I believe this problem is reaching crisis level and something needs to give. We do need more funding for intervention, at every stage. It is not acceptable to pump our children full of anti-depressants and hope for the best, as these do not tackle the root cause of the issue, but merely address the symptoms, with varying degrees of success.
The 'Young Minds' charity offers some frightening statistics:
- Three children in every classroom have a diagnosable mental health disorder.
- One in 10 deliberately harm themselves regularly (and 15,000 of them are hospitalised each year because of this).
- Half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14.
- 95% of imprisoned young offenders have a mental health disorder. Many of them are struggling with more than one disorder.
In a recent article, Brogan Driscoll, Senior Lifestyle Editor at The Huffington Post UK, highlighted the importance of early intervention as a means of preventing mental health problems in adulthood.
Prevention is the key to a long-term solution. Not only do we have a moral obligation towards our children to change these statistics, it makes economic sense, too. With over-stretched NHS resources that are struggling to cope with the problem as it stands, we are only storing up an even bigger problem for the future if we don't tackle this issue now. Investing in prevention now will save the NHS millions in the future.
What are your thoughts on this? I'm interested in your ideas for solutions. Please post your comments below.
I work with young people by delivering a primary school programme with two other speakers, with a strong focus on resilience and well-being, as well as speaking in secondary schools, businesses and charities about happiness, resilience and well-being. As well as posting comments below, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was originally posted on the RWS website on 9th March 2016.