Children’s mental health referrals soar

The Government has said the right things about tackling mental health for a long time. Ministers have proposed placing mental healthcare professionals in a quarter of schools across England, along with reducing waiting times; providing mental health leads and teams dedicated to pupils’ welfare; supporting better collaboration between schools, specialist therapies and the NHS; and incorporating mental health and wellbeing into the PSHE curriculum.

But government measures need to go further. Current policies fail to reach three quarters of pupils going through the education system. The Education Select Committee concluded in a report this month, that the proposals “lack ambition” and threaten to “fail a generation,” as they raise “the very real prospect of hundreds of thousands of children missing out on getting the help they so desperately need.”

More support for mental health is urgently needed in schools, which requires additional funding, capacity and expertise, and not, in the words of the Committee, just piling yet “more pressure on the teaching workforce without sufficient resources.” This support is required to help the ten percent of children and young people in England who suffer from anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions; to support the increasing number of under-11s now referred by schools for mental healthcare (which the NSPCC found has increased by a third in three years); and to assist the three quarters of children and young people who need mental healthcare but do not have access to it. Adequate child and adolescent mental healthcare is also vital for the future of the UK economy. Charity Pro Bono, founded by the Bank of England’s Chief economist Andy Haldane, has conducted a study estimating that every £1 spent on one-on-one mental health counselling for primary school aged children could have a return on investment of £6.20 to the future economy through improving the life prospects of the child.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt is now championing 10-year funding cycles and more integrated care so that the providers of different health cares will be working in collaboration instead of competition. This could be a real opportunity for a holistic and long-term strategy to improve British children’s mental health, but the recent Green Paper on Improving Children and Young People’s Mental Health arguably doesn’t go nearly far enough – requiring further work within government if a long-term strategy is to be realised.