Think tank Centreforum published a report last week on how mental health and wellbeing should be promoted by the government.
It’s a good, clear report and it especially emphasises early intervention both to tackle mental health problems in children and teenagers and to promote wellbeing in schools. It recommends giving children skills and strategies to make them feel happier as well as to tackle life’s stresses.
An estimated 1 in 10 children experience mental health problems, that’s about 3 in every classroom. Mental health can be thought of on a spectrum. We all feel sad or worried sometimes, but 1 in 10 children experience difficulties so significant that these get in the way of their ability to function as they normally would. They might feel so sad that they can’t get up and go to school, or they might have unusual experiences that they can’t explain.
Reasons for these difficulties vary for each young person, and it’s really important to think individually about what is going on for someone. We do know that people are more likely to develop problems if they have a family history of mental illness, and that this is partly related to genetic vulnerability. We also know that the more stresses someone experiences in their life the more vulnerable they are. So a cumulative effect of exam stress, family problems, rows with friends… might all join together to tip someone over into feeling so sad that they use a less than helpful coping strategy like self harm, for example.
Although teenagers often get stereotyped as being isolatative, moody and withdrawn, most teenagers aren’t like this, and signs of low mood, sadness or anxiety should be taken seriously in young people.
This report calls for children’s mental health to be prioritised, with teaching of important coping skills in schools, such as mindfulness meditation, and teachers trained to be able to spot early warning signs and refer children for help. These strategies depend on there being enough services present to help, which depends on government funding continuing or increasing.
The current coalition is thinking about some of these issues, and they’ve funded Improving Access to Psychological Therapies for Children and Young People (CYP-IAPT). But they’ve also at the same time made radical cuts to health and social care provision which is having a massive effect on what help is available.
Centreforum’s report has input from some heavyweights in the field of mental health, and the commission was chaired by Paul Burstow, Former Minister of State for Care and Support. The report also calls for parity of funding for mental health services in general, which currently receive 13% of NHS spend in England despite accounting for 23% of demand.
Ultimately time will tell whether the government takes on board the suggestions in the report, which all require funding sources of some kind, either from the government or from some way of bringing on board third sector charity involvement. I hope it takes the recommendations for child mental health seriously. It’s hard for politicians in our four year election cycle to prioritise long-term funding strategies, but this is one which is long overdue and much needed.