Acting early can help stop a growing mental health crisis

Posted by / Friday 23 November 2018 / Mental health
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Imran Hussain, Director of Policy and Campaigns at Action for Children

Today’s long-awaited NHS Digital figures reveal the scale of the mental health crisis for children and young people across England - and the inadequacy of the government’s current plans to tackle it. 

We’ve been waiting over 13 years for new statistics to give a clearer idea of how children and teens are tackling mental health and emotional wellbeing issues. During this time, our children have been navigating an increasingly complex 24/7 world and it’s unsurprising that today’s data reveals a  different picture from back then.

Shockingly, the new figures show that nearly one in eight children and young people aged 5-15 are suffering with a mental disorder. In 2004, it was one in ten.

The increase in emotional disorders such as anxiety and depression has been especially dramatic, having now increased by about half. And even toddlers are facing difficulties; one in eighteen of pre-school children aged 2-4 years were identified with at least one mental disorder

These are deeply worrying figures and sadly they reflect what our frontline services see every day - children and teenagers struggling to understand how they fit in the world as they contend with challenges such as intense pressure at school, problems at home, and bullying, with constant stimulation from social media.

But now the sheer scale of the problem is out in the open, we have to match it with the right level of ambition to fix it – and we know first-hand that it can be done.

Action for Children has been running the first ever UK-wide ‘early help’ school programme for teenage depression. The ‘Blues Programme’ which is based on cognitive behavioural therapy techniques, has resulted in an improvement in mental health and emotional wellbeing in 70 per cent[ii] of pupils taking part so far. Reports show a specific decrease in depression as well as increased confidence and self-esteem, improved relationships and better engagement at school.

Whether for toddlers or teenagers, stepping in to help early with preventative services can stop problems in their tracks. Most importantly, this means we can lessen the anxiety, pain or anguish that many children are going through; but it will also reduce pressures on the NHS, if fewer children need intensive support further down the line.

So it is good to see the government commit to offering more early help through schools. But, overall, its plans do not go far enough to address the problem. That was the case even before today’s figures – which show the problem is bigger than it thought – were published.

It’s time for the government to step up to the plate and accelerate plans with the right level of ministerial focus, targeted support and overall funding. We simply can’t wait another 13 years for this to happen.

Visit www.buildsoundminds.org.uk for tools and tips for parents to help their children deal with the stresses and strains of growing up today.