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Young minds matter: early intervention is paramount for preserving mental health

Young minds matter: early intervention is paramount for preserving mental health
3 min read

If we are to prevent a rise in children’s mental health problems we need to recognise the value of much earlier intervention and the folly of cuts in early years spending.

As we contemplate schools reopening and assessment plans, many are rightly worried that catch-up doesn’t result in an extensive cramming programme, placing further pressures on many young people, whose mental health has already suffered because of the pandemic.

It’s been encouraging to hear Sir Kevan Collins refer to the importance of play and relationships and emphasise subjects such as sport, music and drama as well as more traditional areas but can we be confident that the Secretary of State is listening?

There’s no specific extra funding identified for children’s mental health and well-being in the recent education package. This month, we should be celebrating five years of steady progress in targets outlined in the Five Year Forward View initiative. Sadly, while there has been some limited progress, there’s no cause for celebration.

Mental health disorders among children and young people have steadily increased over the last three years, from 1 in 9 in 2017 to 1 in 6 in 2020. Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner, claimed shortly before the end of her term in office, that services for children and adolescents are simply failing to match needs and that a chasm now exists between what is available and what is required.

Young people in the youth justice system are 3 times more likely than their peers to have a mental health problem and 70% of children with autism also have at least one additional mental health condition

Best estimates suggest about 8% of young people are waiting more than 12 weeks for an initial assessment and 34% are turned away without any follow up support. Some reports claim that there can be a 10-year gap between a young person displaying the first symptoms of a mental illness and eventually receiving proper, mental health support.

We are not short of information about who is likely to be at risk. We know that children from the poorest 20% of households are four times more likely to have serious mental health problems, by the age of 11, than those from the wealthiest 20%.

Young people in the youth justice system are 3 times more likely than their peers to have a mental health problem and 70% of children with autism also have at least one additional mental health condition

We need ringfenced funding, within the education budget, if schools are to be capable of providing the training and support which the government currently recommends and there needs to be wider promotion of the help available. There are useful programmes out there, such as Bouncing Back, promoted by Action for Children, which offers a face to face or digital early intervention programme aimed at building resilience.

Another example is the Blues Programme which is a blend of cognitive therapy, coping strategies and physical activity delivered through schools, over a 6-week period. I was recently privileged to meet with some young people who had taken part and hear first-hand how much they felt they’d benefitted from this assistance.

The other area where the government needs to turn its attention, is early years. The rise in mental health figures, for children, tend to mirror cutbacks in children’s centres and parenting programmes.

If we are to prevent an inexorable rise in mental health problems, resulting in full blown diagnosable illnesses in early adulthood, we need to recognise the value of much earlier intervention and the folly of cuts in early years spending.

 

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