Black Hole in Mental Health

Teresa May on the 16thJune 2019 stated the need of more resources to help children and young adult’s mental health services and that every new teacher will be trained in spotting early warning signs. Already overburdened teachers are being asked to spot signs of mental health problems in pupils, but what then? It has been well known over the last few years that there has been an increase in numbers of children and younger people experiencing mental health issues yet little funding has been committed to increase resources. Where do children go for help once the signs have been spotted? Available services and waiting lists vary greatly depending on the area you live in and which Trust hospital you are trying to access.

A study published in October 2018 reported a 50 % increase in university students accessing mental health services with figures reaching 80,000 during 2016 to 2017. However, it is not just university students who have shown an increase in mental health problems but pupils in secondary schools also show signs of growing problems including self- harm.

On one hand, increasing numbers may indicate that more people feel able to talk about their mental health and therefore are better positioned to access support. However, there is a fundamental opinion that there is a black hole in mental health services generally and in none more so than for children and young adults.

If someone has the courage to admit they are experiencing psychological problems to themselves and approaches services for help, it is not always forthcoming. Mental Health services in preserving its workforce for the neediest, turn individuals away. Such judgements are based on tick box questionnaires that don’t meet the threshold to access help; little thought is given to the impact of being turned away after voicing concerns then asking for help or that the questionnaire is a small window into someone’s life that is only relevant at the time they completed it. If services were better resourced, accurate assessment could lead to treatment for some and signposting for others. One university student described his struggles and completed a form only to be emailed 2 months later to inform him that he did not meet the criteria for one to one counselling which had a serious impact on him.

However, some areas are investing in resources and trying to overcome barriers in accessing help. Barnsley Clinical Commissioning Group funded Mindspace to set up a pilot scheme across 10 secondary schools which placed mental health practitioners in-house so children could access help quickly without being taken out of school. Support offered included one to one counselling as well as group support for issues such as bereavement. Children were enabled to receive timely assessment and support thus avoiding a compound effect of being left on a waiting list leading to worsening symptoms that require lengthier treatment and developmental disruption.

Launched in October 2017, there are no formal evaluations published to date, however, it seems a ground-breaking example of relevant action being taken to actually help children and young adults rather than another system of detecting signs but not having timely, accessible support.