17/02/2016 03:56 GMT | Updated 16/02/2017 05:12 GMT

School Counsellors Can Help Tackle Children's Mental Health Crisis


Problems with mental health often start when children are still at school - three quarters of adult mental health problems are thought to have their roots in childhood. It seems obvious, then, that one of the best ways to tackle poor mental health effectively is to offer help when mental health issues first emerge at school.

Schools are the ideal places to respond to students' mental health and emotional needs. They offer a safe environment to address such issues as low self-esteem, bullying and exam anxiety as well as to identify and tackle problems when they first emerge.

Through The Children's Society's work with children and young people, we know that there is a link between the issue of unmet emotional and mental health needs and their risk of going missing, falling into gangs or being groomed for exploitation. Poor mental health can also be a warning sign of neglect, abuse or other traumatic events in a child's life.

That is why we are backing calls from Place2Be and the National Association for Head Teachers for all schools to provide high-quality counselling services to help deal with emerging mental health problems.

It is clear that many schools across the country are already spotting signs of mental ill-health. The Children's Society's recent report, Access Denied: A teenager's pathway through the mental health system, found that nearly one in 10 (8%) referrals made to specialist Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) in a 12-month period came from schools and further education colleges themselves. But more can be done to support teachers through proper training and guidance.

The alternative is too costly to be allowed to continue. Failure to recognise the signs and provide speedy and appropriate support early on can contribute to serious long-term ill-health and financial costs. For a young person who has experienced significant trauma, such as sexual abuse, the lack of support may be even more destructive.

In recent years only a tiny fraction - just 6% - of total spending on mental health services has been allocated for children and young people .

The sad reality is that many children and young people who have pressing mental health issues are made to wait to get the help they need - if they are able to access help at all. Our report found that children and young people wait an average of 66 days for an initial assessment by specialist mental health services. In some areas waiting time for conditions including severe depression and anxiety, self-harm, eating disorders and psychosis, stretch to 140 days - almost five months. This is unacceptable.

The mental health needs of the most vulnerable young people in particular are too often overlooked when they are crying out for help to deal with the emotional impact of abuse and neglect. For example, we found that less than half of mental health trusts (47%) have clear processes in place for children who have experienced sexual exploitation despite the recent national focus on child sex abuse and its impact.

The Government's commitment to invest £1.25billion over the next five years in order to improve children and young people's access to mental health support is of course a welcome step. But following years of underfunding even this may not be enough to secure the extensive improvements needed to make sure children get crucial early support and for vulnerable children to receive the specialist mental health care they need.

The Children's Society's practitioners, who deliver a range of counselling, befriending and emotional support services, including in schools, tell us that mental health needs among young people are significant and growing, particularly for vulnerable young people who have experienced abuse. This week's focus on children's mental health is as good an opportunity as any to again make the case for a sharper focus from government, and schools, on what more can be done to help young people when they need it most.

Young Minds Matter is a new series designed to lead the conversation with children about mental and emotional health, so youngsters feel loved, valued and understood. Launched with Her Royal Highness, The Duchess of Cambridge, as guest editor, we will discuss problems, causes and most importantly solutions to the stigma surrounding the UK's mental health crisis among children. To blog on the site as part of Young Minds Matter email