Children and young people's mental health

3 July 2015

On Friday 3 July, the Mental Health Foundation gave evidence to the Youth Select Committee inquiry at Westminster. The inquiry, hosted by the British Youth Council, focused on the topic of children and young people’s mental health.

The organisation was represented by Policy Manager Marguerite Regan and Policy Assistant Emma Wilson in a panel discussion that focused on four topics: mental health stigma, social media and online interventions, the role of education and access to children’s mental health services.

The Youth Select Committee is a British Youth Council initiative, supported by the House of Commons. It is made up of young people from around the UK, and the Committee functions in the same way as a standard Select Committee, taking both written and oral evidence and producing a report which is sent to the government for a response. The inquiry into mental health, launched in March, received over 140 pieces of evidence from a range of groups including paediatricians, politicians and young patients.

We were keen to contribute to this inquiry due to our long term work with the Children and Young People's Mental Health Coalition. We believe that there are still substantial improvements to be made to Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), the role that schools can play as well as other preventative measures that reduce the risk of mental health problems from arising in young people.

In our written evidence, we provided several recommendations that focused on prevention strategies, the importance of research data, maternal mental health and CAMHS services – including transitions, waiting times and lack of resources.

During the Committee hearing, the Mental Health Foundation provided input into the area of stigma, CAMHS services and the role which schools can play.

Stigma

On the topic of stigma, the Foundation’s successful project in Scotland, See Me and the downloadable resource What’s On Your Mind was cited as an example of good practice in breaking down the stigma that surrounds mental health problems.

Education

We highlighted the importance of a “whole school” approach to mental health, from promoting emotional wellbeing on the curriculum to ensuring that senior management incorporates mental health policies across its work. We also discussed one of our forthcoming projects, a peer education project where year 12 students will co-produce a curriculum that can be rolled out to year 7 students.

It was also highlighted that a whole school approach must take into account those vulnerable people who are not in school, such as excluded students, homeless persons, those in the criminal justice system and members of the traveling community.

Access to Services

We expressed concern about the lack of resources and postcode lottery of children’s mental health services (such as the drastic cuts to services in the South West of England), the necessity of a nationwide measure of funding and the need to ring-fence spending on children’s mental health services.

Finally, we highlighted the importance of integrating mental and physical health services; the so-called parity of esteem.

In our concluding remarks, we highlighted two particular recommendations:

  • The importance of a “whole school” approach to supporting the mental and emotional wellbeing of students.
  • The importance of working with Local Authorities in order to identify those children – inside and outside of the school system – who are vulnerable to developing mental health problems, and training staff to support and refer these children to specialist services when necessary.

It is clear that the support we provide children and young people with mental health problems, or at risk of developing mental health problems, at present is far from acceptable. With young people themselves now leading the charge for change, we can only but hope that the Government will listen.