We must act NOW to support children’s mental health services

These teenagers are having a great time but 40% of 16-24 year olds say they feel lonely often or very often

 Tomorrow I am at a conference about how we transition young people with mental health problems from their youth status into the adult mental health system. I’ll be speaking in part of it and chairing another part of. This Conference, hosted by the Local Government Association has been called, in part to highlight the growth in poor mental health and the obvious fact that if we cannot help young people at the point from which their poor mental health develops, we will have to pay even more to help them for the rest of their lives because their problems will get worse.

I speak here in terms of the monetary problems but the reality for mental health sufferers is a poor quality life and an early death if mental ill-health is not dealt with at an early age.

The situation is absolutely shocking so let me share some facts with you:

  • Suicide is the leading cause of death in children and young people aged 5-19. Suicide continues to be the leading cause of death in both men and women until the age of 34. For men, suicide continues to be the leading cause of death until the age of 49. 
  • Young people feel loneliness more intensely and more frequently than any other age group.
  • 40 per cent of people aged 16-24 say they feel lonely often or very often, compared to 29 per cent of 65-74-year-olds and 27 per cent of those aged over 75.
  • One in 6 young people aged 17 to 19 has at least one mental health disorder. In this age group, a quarter of young women have a mental health disorder. Half of them have self-harmed or attempted to take their own life.
  • Over half of all mental ill health starts before the age of 14, with 75 per cent of mental health disorders starting by 24 years of age.
  • Nearly 40 per cent of children and young people seeking help for their mental health from the NHS do not receive it.
  • Between 2010 and 2020, councils will have lost 60p out of every £1 the Government had provided for services. 
  • Children services face a funding gap of £3.1bn by 2025 
  • Adult social care will have a funding shortfall of £3.6 billion by 2025
  • Public health funding has been reduced by £600 million between 2015/16 and 2019/20  Councils face an overall funding gap of £8 billion by 2025

So, given these facts what must we do? We need to find a way to help the 40 per cent of young people who seek NHS help and don’t get it. If they are not unwell enough to receive NHS help, we need to work out how we’re going to help them in other ways.  It should be a priority to ensure that these 40 per cent don’t get worse, rather than waiting until they meet the criteria for treatment. We need to focus on how we can help them so they don’t need NHS treatment. If it is not the NHS helping this 40 per cent, then is there an assumption it’s up to councils, schools and the voluntary sector? If so, their contribution should be acknowledged and properly funded.

But look at the last three bullet points above. Money, alone, is not the answer to the problem but there is no answer without money. There is much we can do at relatively little extra cost to create the partnerships needed and to raise awareness of parents, teachers and the community at large to he problems but not without some cash input. A cash input which if spent well now will save a fortune down the line.

Councils are the most important part in this. Councils provide prevention-based services through their public health duties, and are responsible for a range of services that intertwine with children and adult mental health, such as children’s social care, youth support services, family support, school nurses, health visitors, leisure facilities, adult social care, housing, drug and alcohol services, etc. Yet they are not acknowledged in the most recent national children and adult mental health plans and strategies and their funding has been cut.

If the Government really believes as its long-term plan says in, “prevention not cure” then we need to ensure that the social determinants of poor mental health are dealt with. Children suffer from poverty, poor food and drink; drugs; alcohol; boredom; unstable families; poor housing; the threats of peer pressure amplified by social media; poor educational attainment levels. To some extent those pressures have always been there but there are today amplified by social and standard media alike. Are you an ‘acceptable’ weight; ‘sufficiently’ beautiful; ‘scoring well’ in the social media etc. I’m really glad I’m not a teenager now!

My principal messages tomorrow are twofold:

  1. That the huge pressures of poor children’s mental health; and
  2. That councils need the cash to deal with the problems rather than the clinical routes normally favoured by the NHS although money is needed in both sectors.

Will the Government listen? Well I’ll have the opportunity to tell you soon. Next month I’m meeting the Government Minister for suicide, Jacquie Doyle-Price. I’ll know then whether she takes the statistics above seriously and is prepared to do something about them.

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About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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