The increased focus on children and young people's mental health can only be a good thing. But alongside setting out the scale of the problems facing children and young people we also need to identify workable answers.
For those of us battling to improve the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people this week we have seen three key stories that have highlighted the challenge we face. Over the weekend the BBC reported on a survey of school leaders concerned about the increased number of pupils living with stress and anxiety. On Tuesday, news broke that there has been "no significant investment in NHS child mental health services". Quickly followed by news that there has been a dramatic increase in the number of children in the UK prescribed anti-depressants. Simon Stevens said at an event this week that most of the newly announced money for mental health won't be available until 2018-20. By now there can be little doubt that we face a massive problem, perhaps one of the biggest of our time. What we need is answers, and a commitment to deliver change.
The Children and Young People's Mental Health Coalition supports the ring fencing of money for children and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS). A policy that would ensure that the money isn't reallocated to other areas. Ring fencing has to benefit all the agencies that work with children and young people to improve and protect mental health.
On antidepressants, medication has a role and a place in some circumstances. But we need to ensure that children and young people, in consultation with their families, are able to access a range of treatments. Guidelines by the National Institute of Health and Social Care Excellence (NICE) state that antidepressants should only be prescribed for moderate to severe experiences of depression and in tandem with psychological therapy. But in many areas of the country access to psychological therapy is limited and/or subject to a significant waiting times.
More broadly the Coalition believes that we need to fundamentally change the way support is delivered by developing a values based approach. An approach which focuses on what is important to people - children and young people, their families and practitioners, but also commissioners and managers working to improve mental health provision. We know generally what children and young people and their families want: early intervention, picking up problem early or preventing them, easy access to services when and where they need them, being involved in their own care - so having a say in whether they are prescribed antidepressants, not having to keep repeating your story, being respected and being treated fairly. Practitioners will have their own values such as being able to help a child get better. For service managers, it might be doing this in a cost effective way, meeting any performance indicators etc. It is about finding a way to manage these different values.
To this end, the Coalition, alongside the Royal College of Psychiatrists' Faculty of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Young Minds, is sponsoring a Commission led by Baroness Tyler. The Commission is calling for evidence to improve mental healthcare provision for children and young people. It is for all those who have been or are impacted by Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services - including teachers, doctors, social workers, commissioners, parents and children and young people. Taking part involves completing a short survey and describing any particular challenges faced. The survey will be online until 31 May 2016.
The evidence will inform recommendations that we hope will lead to a sea change in how we deliver mental healthcare provision for children and young people. We all know how big the problem is. We need everyone affected to share their views on how we can make things better.