Last week’s Guardian featured a rather startling deadline – in 2016 nearly a quarter of a million children in England have been under the care of the Mental Health Service. This was by all account a sharp rise from the last time a similar study had been undertaken and worryingly it can affect the very young too as according to the article nearly 12,000 aged 5 and under are on the Mental Health Service’s books. In the same verve Childline has reported a doubling in five years in children contemplating suicide and one in four woman aged between 16 and 24 have now a mental health condition.
Experts had been asked about the causes of such an increase. Family breakdowns and poverty were named as possible causes but also pressures surrounding academic achievements and physical appearance.
The last two plausible causes are very well documented, probably because they could affect most of us. A lot of parents and carers have come across Facebook campaigns to scrap SATS and all the various ways each government seem to come up with testing our youngsters’ abilities to count, write and read. Likewise “looking good” has always been a big concern for teenagers but in the era of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram this has taken a new dimension. I attended a very good e-safety seminar a couple of weeks ago and the speaker rightly pointed out whilst most parents had a life before social media, this is life with a big L for our youngsters and these are the platforms where reputations are made and broken, sometimes with devastating consequences.
If causes are various and complex, potential solutions are just as unclear. In spite of various campaigns, the testing trend in school shows no abating, affecting in its wake the most vulnerable. Equally a world without social media is pretty much unimaginable and often parents, who by and large grew up in the pre-Facebook era, remain ill-equipped to deal and prevent the potential anguish caused by social media interactions.
Encouragingly the government has pledged an extra £25 million to clinical commissioning groups across England in a bid to speed up plans for improving mental health services for children and young people, including reducing back logs and waiting times amongst other things. And as promising as this sounds, according to Prof Dame Sue Bailey, chair of the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition, this won’t be enough to help all children as by 2021 “instead of one in four children being seen by child and adolescent mental health services through referral, it will be down to one in three”.
One thing is clear however, unfortunately more and more families are likely to be affected by this issue and the sooner we start taking children’s mental health more seriously, the quicker we will find solutions for our youngsters.