It’s great to see all of the manifestos featuring investment in children and young people’s mental health. We know it’s a big problem. Last year we published the latest Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey data, showing stubbornly high rates of common mental disorders among young people. Worryingly, the gap between young women and young men is widening, with young women emerging as a new high-risk group.
And this isn’t just an issue for teenagers and young adults. Data from the most recent national survey of mental health among children and young people (in 2004) showed that one in ten children and young people aged 5-16 had a clinically diagnosed mental health problem.
Building on Future in Mind, all of the manifestos have a strong focus on mental health education and mental health services in schools, whether it’s the Conservative promise to deliver ‘mental health first aid training’ to all teachers, Labour’s commitment to setting up a counselling service in every secondary school, or the Lib Dem focus on training for front line staff, including teachers.
All of this is welcome, but it’s worth sounding a note of caution. Supporting children and young people to manage their mental health, and particularly supporting children and young people who are experiencing mental distress has to be about more than schools. Last year the National Children’s Bureau and the Association of School and College leaders published a survey on mental health in secondary schools. Their takeaway finding? That faced by rising levels of need and new challenges like cyber bullying, the real challenges lie beyond the school gates: ‘children and young people need access to a wider range of early intervention services… and when they do get ill, the NHS needs to step in with adequately resourced and accessible treatment’.
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NatCen and ONS are currently conducting the new wave of the National Study of Health and Wellbeing: Children and Young People for NHS Digital (findings are due to be published in 2018). We are also conducting a survey of mental health provision in schools for the Department for Education (due to be published later this year).