Recent NHS figures reveal that there is the highest demand ever on the National Health Service (NHS) regarding child mental health, which is putting considerable pressure on the organisation. The figures demonstrate that the number of children seeking help for conditions such as anxiety, depression and eating disorders was 36% higher in 2017 than in 2016. Additionally, the NHS in England is treating the highest number ever of children and young people for mental health problems at almost 400,000 per year. The mental health charity YoungMinds have stated that one in ten children, and one in five young adults, have a diagnosable mental health disorder. Additionally, out of the population in contact with mental health services at the end of December 2017, around 23% were aged under 19. Experts attribute these high numbers to increased pressures at school, body image issues, troubled family backgrounds and greater influences of social media.
Although it is positive that more child mental health problems are being identified due to growing awareness and a change in attitudes, the NHS is ill equipped in tackling the scale of the issue. The Association of Child Psychotherapists commented in June 2018 that this is to blame on an overstretched workforce, chronic underfunding, structural issues and a deterioration of specialist services in the child mental health services. According to YoungMinds, this results in barriers and delays at every step in the stage of search for help for young people and families, which can escalate the problems. Additionally, the NHS revealed that only one in four under-18’s receive treatment for their diagnosable mental health problems.
Luckily, the NHS has plans to increase mental health treatment for young people by 35% for 2020-21. In addition, they have already increased the number of beds available for young people who need inpatient care for health issues such as eating disorders. Theresa May has commented that child mental health is a priority and a “burning issue of our time”. The government published a green paper last November proposing new waiting time targets and a greater involvement of schools and colleges in identifying and supporting child mental health. Considering that YoungMinds states that half of all mental health problems manifest by the age of 14 and 75% by 24, it will be vital that this support is provided for children as soon as possible, such as at school. Therefore, these plans will hopefully increase early identification, prevention and general awareness.
Although YoungMinds were pleased by the government’s recognition of the importance of early intervention and the role of schools, they stated that children and young people need more urgent action. They also noted that the government hopes that by 2022 the plans will only the rolled out to part of the country’s areas and to only one in four schools, which is not enough. Whilst both the NHS and the government’s plans are promising in that they are acknowledging that change is needed, even more needs to be done to tackle this problem. Luckily, child mental health is becoming less taboo and being made more aware, but this means that services need greater improvement and long-term investment to support these children and young people adequately.
Association for Young People’s Health. (2017) Young people’s health: where are we up to? Available at: http://www.youngpeopleshealth.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Young-Peoples-Health-Update-2017-final.pdf
Association of Child Psychotherapists. (2018) ‘Silent Catastrophe’: Responding to the danger signs of children and young people’s mental health services in trouble. Available at: https://childpsychotherapy.org.uk/sites/default/files/documents/ACP%20SILENT%20CATASTROPHE%20REPORT.pdf
Campbell, D. (2018) More NHS child mental health cases than ever, The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jul/12/sharp-rise-in-under-19s-being-treated-by-nhs-mental-health-services
BBC. (2017) Pledge to boost mental health support in schools. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-42194524
Department for Health and Department for Education. (2017) Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health Provision: a Green Paper. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/664855/Transforming_children_and_young_people_s_mental_health_provision.pdf
Mental Health Taskforce to the NHS in England. (2016) The five year forward view for mental health. Available at: https://www.england.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Mental-Health-Taskforce-FYFV-final.pdf
NHS Digital. (2018) Mental Health Services monthly statistics: final December 2017, Provisional January 2018. Available at: https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/mental-health-services-monthly-statistics/mental-health-services-monthly-statistics-final-december-2017-provisional-january-2018
YoungMinds. (2018) Greater awareness about young people’s mental health, but support still too hard to find. Available at: https://youngminds.org.uk/media/2279/greater-awareness-but-support-still-too-hard-to-find.pdf
YoungMinds. (2018) Our view on the government’s Green Paper. Available at: https://youngminds.org.uk/resources/policy/our-view-on-the-government-s-green-paper/
YoungMinds (2018) Mental Health Statistics. Available at: https://youngminds.org.uk/about-us/media-centre/mental-health-stats/