EVERY SUMMER THE MEDIA is filled with pictures of happy young people finding out their GCSE and A-level results. What few of us ever see are the faces of the ones who broke under the strain.
While schools have incentives to focus on academic achievements, seeing targets met, and improving Ofsted ratings, what about the emotional and mental well-being of our kids?
Young Minds, a charity campaigning around children and young people’s mental health, highlights the worrying extent of these problems in Britain in 2017:
- One in ten children have a diagnosable mental health problem. That’s roughly three in every classroom.
- One in five young adults have a diagnosable mental health problem.
- Almost one in four children and young people show some evidence of mental ill health, including anxiety and depression.
- Suicide is now the most common cause of death for boys aged between 5-19 years, and the second most common for girls of this age.
Data drawn from mental health trusts in England for June 2016 show that almost a quarter of a million children and young people are receiving NHS support for issues such as depression, anxiety and eating disorders.
Breaking that down, there were 11,849 boys and girls aged five and under, and 53,659 aged between six and 10. Just over 100,000 patients were 11 to 15, and 69,505 were 16 to 18. Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that in 2015, 231 people aged 10-19 took their own lives. That’s the highest tally since 2001.
And services are stretched to breaking point. A survey in 2016 of 48 NHS trusts found more than a quarter of children referred to child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) being turned away, while well over half were placed on a waiting list. Among children with conditions such as suicidal thoughts, self-harm, anorexia and psychosis, 14% were turned away and 15% were placed on a waiting list.
Young Minds states that three in four children with a diagnosable mental health condition do not get access to the support that they need. The average maximum waiting time for a first appointment with CAMHS is six months, and it takes an average of ten months until the start of treatment.
CAMHS is turning away nearly a quarter of children referred to them for treatment by concerned parents, GPs, teachers and others. From what we know about black and minority ethnic kids with mental health problems, they tend to reach crisis point more often before receiving support, and are under-represented in mental health services. Funding is inadequate for the demand.
Schools are struggling with how they support children and young people with mental health problems, and there are not enough inpatient beds.
Labour is rightly committed to increased funding. But we need to fight the cuts now, and raise awareness of how mental health is doubly a Cinderella service when it comes to young people. We need to put more resources into early intervention, better education around mental health, and reducing the stigma that still exists. We need more mental health support put into schools.
But for socialists, this has to be about more than campaigning for better funded services to support our children and young people. We need to look at why so many children and young people are so distressed, hurting themselves and struggling. Of course, we will never eliminate all pressures, all ‘bad’ things, and our own vulnerabilities to mental health problems. But much is within our grasp as a society, and socialists should fight to see this achieved.
Children’s mental health is in addition ramped up by poverty, poor housing, their parents’ health and well-being, racism, anti- LGBT discrimination, and pressure to conform to norms about appearance. Today’s relentless social media culture amplifies much of that.
Our response has to be to build an education system - and yes, a broader society too - that puts as much store on the mental health of children and young people as on their academic achievements. That education system, and that transformed society, will both look very different from the ones we live with now.
is Labour councillor for Hoxton West, Hackney council (writing here in a personal capacity)