Luciana Berger MP: 'What’s troubling is what the Green Paper is missing – how we keep young people well by preventing mental illness'

Posted On: 
11th December 2017

Labour MP Luciana Berger writes ahead of her adjournment debate on mental health provision for children and young people.

The Government's proposals on mental health provision for children and young people are nowhere near ambitious enough, writes Luciana Berger
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Later today, I will be speaking in an adjournment debate that I have secured on the recently published Green Paper on mental health provision for children and young people. The Government released its long-awaited publication last week.  

In the preceding weeks, ministers suggested that the paper would focus on improving access to specialist support and early intervention services, triggering hope that new and radical prevention policies would be implemented to help tackle the current crisis in mental health. Disappointingly, its contents left a lot to be desired.

Demand for mental health support amongst young people is increasing at a worrying level.  The number of children being admitted to A&E in a mental health crisis is at a record high. Self-harm - in particular carried out by teenage girls under the age of 17 - has increased by 68% over the past three years. Clinicians tell us that the number of children needing help is increasing, along with the complexity and acuity of their conditions.

And yet, the state of services available for children and adolescents suffering with their mental health, is shamefully inadequate. In my area, YPAS (the key service supporting young people’s mental health) has seen its budget cut by 43% this year. A recent Care Quality Commission report confirmed that young people are waiting up to 18 months to access the treatment they need.  Too many are turned away because they don’t meet increasingly out of reach thresholds. 

Considering that parity of esteem for mental health was enshrined into law in the Health and Social Act in 2012, this is unacceptable. Urgent action and political leadership is required to address this vital issue. 

That’s why I was really looking forward to the Green Paper’s release. It provided an opportunity for meaningful change, to respond to these issues by offering new ways of preventing mental ill health in our young people at an early stage. But its proposals are nowhere near ambitious enough to even scratch the surface of what is happening in our country today.

The announcements include the introduction of a four week waiting time target for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), which will be “phased in” via a pilot that will begin in 2019.  It is commonly understood that the longer young people have to wait for treatment, the more likely it will have an adverse impact on their life – so there are serious questions about why a trial period is necessary.

Other proposals includes £300 million to be spent over the next three years on mental health support in schools. To put this in perspective, that is how much it costs to run the NHS for one day.  However, this “new” funding will only provide a service which replaces what has already been lost in many of our schools: pastoral care, school nurses, educational psychologists, peer mentors and counsellors.  

However, in my view the most disheartening announcement, is that mental health support plans will only be implemented for a fifth of schools in the country by 2022-23. This means that it could be thirteen years before the remaining 80% of children see real change. 

What’s troubling is what the Green Paper is missing – how we keep young people well by preventing mental illness.  We could make a difference by minimising the factors that lead to mental ill health in children, such as poverty, childhood trauma, insecure housing and domestic violence. A plan of action on prevention is needed, with specific steps that can be taken now. The longer we wait, the worse off those suffering will be.

It is unclear how the announced commitments will adequately address the crisis that we currently see in children and young people’s mental health services. This evening’s debate will offer MPs a chance to raise these concerns, and I urge the Government to listen.  

Luciana Berger is the MP for Liverpool Wavertree, and President of the Labour Campaign for Mental Health