Growing up is hard for anyone at any time and every child and young person faces challenges when it comes to mental wellbeing and mental health, no matter who they are or where they come from. In the UK it’s widely acknowledged our children are facing a mental health crisis, one which requires urgent solutions.
This week (commencing 6 February) is Children’s Mental Health Week and so MQ are focusing on potential solutions to this deepening crisis.
Someone who has spoken clearly about this pressing need for change recently is Lord Davies.
The former leader of the Inner London Education Authority spoke last month in the House of Lords on the topic. His speech was part of a debate on the Commission on Young Lives’ Report: Hidden In Plain Sight published on 4 November 2022.
For all of us seeking hope for the future mental wellbeing of our young people, here are some of the key points made.
TEENAGERS AND CHILDREN
While the report was subtitled “a national plan of action to support vulnerable teenagers to succeed and to protect them from adversity, exploitation, and harm’, and so focuses on teenagers and what happens in secondary schools, Lord Davies wanted to make the simple point that mental health problems begin all too often at a much earlier age.
“It is so much better for the individuals concerned, for the children concerned, for the education system and for society in general to help children who are at risk of problems with their mental health in primary schools. It is unfortunate that too often it is too late or at best much harder to resolve problems by the time children become teenagers.”
COLLABORATION AND EARLY INTERVENTION
The findings of the report show a clear need for children’s mental health services to work with schools, other health services, local authorities and the police moving forwards to help the mental well-being of children. But Lord Davies stressed an extra layer of change required, a change for which MQ has called.
“We do need legislation for early intervention for children and young people as a statutory requirement. By ensuring early intervention and support when young children are showing signs of mental distress or children are at risk, we can not only help to break the cycles of exploitation and suffering… but also reduce the overall impact and cost to the economy.”
More than 2 billion is spent annually on social care for people with mental health problems, with the wider costs being estimated at £118 billion across the UK. This cost is attributed to lost productivity, informal care costs and, as acknowledged in the report, mental health problems add considerably to the workloads of our education, criminal and justice systems. Lord Davies used these statistics to underpin the urgency necessary.
“It is crucial to understand that half of lifetime mental health problems start before the age of 14. It is unfortunate therefore that spending on early intervention services for children and young people has been cut by half between 2010 and 2020. This is when it is a growing problem.”
A GROWING PROBLEM – KEY STATISTICS
These key statistics (click the link) show clearly why there is a growing problem when it comes to children’s mental health. Despite calls for legislation change, there are no statuary measures in place to guarantee essential early intervention for children and young people who are developing mental health problems.
As Lord Davies said:
“It is unfortunate that the government does not appear to understand the scale of the crisis.”
The forthcoming Mental Health Bill could be an opportunity to change this “growing problem” but the bill focuses almost exclusively on crisis intervention. Instead of developing strategies for early intervention, spending on prevention of mental illness has decreased.
- Expenditure on late intervention has increased over the decade between 2010 and 2020, from £5.7billion to £8billion.
- Expenditure on early intervention fell from £3.8 billion to just £1.8 billion – almost halved.
- A 2018 report by the LSC and Rethink Mental Illness found that early intervention can equal a saving or almost £8,000 per person over four years.
- For every £1 invested in early intervention over a 10 year period, £15 could be saved in costs.
TEENAGERS OR CHILDREN?
Many of us who live with mental illness might recognise the early childhood symptoms and subsequent exacerbation of those problems at secondary school age of which Lord Davies spoke.
“It’s so distressing to hear now of harmful or dangerous behaviour exhibited by teenagers as young as 13 or 14 – teenagers who mere months before were children, who have been moved out of mainstream education and who are already known to local police.
Evidence shows that early intervention is effective for society and for the individual and produces the greatest impact leading to happier and more productive and fulfilled lives. And early intervention for young people means at primary school age. As Lord Davies describes:
“It is more important than ever that we have a workforce delivering professional psychological support to these groups earlier when they are children. They should get the care they need when they first exhibit risky behaviour or first start mimicking older children in their communities who are behaving dangerously.”
“I hope we can continue to push for expert mental health support before the teenage years to be taken seriously as a preventative measure instead of allowing issues to escalate and entrench, casting long shadows from childhood into young adulthood.”
For anyone living with mental illness who felt a lack of intervention in their younger years, Lord Davies’ words held great power. If his words and clear evidence are listened to and action subsequently taken in light of his urgent appeal, there may be hope for long overdue change to prevent the long shadows of which Lord Davies spoke.