The ‘Heads Up: Rethinking mental health services for vulnerable young people’ report published by the Commission for Young Lives is the fourth thematic report on mental health. The report details the profound crisis in children and young people’s mental health in England. ‘Children with special educational needs or a disability (SEND), those from disadvantaged family backgrounds, and some children from racialised backgrounds’ reported more anxiety and were more at risk of mental health issues. The numbers speak for themselves:
- One in six children aged 6 to 16 were identified as having a probable mental health problem in July 2021, a huge increase from one in nine in 2017
- Boys aged 6 to 10 are more likely to have a probable mental problem than girls, but in 17 to 19-year-olds this pattern reverses, with rates higher in young women than young men
- By the age of eight, 7 in 10 children report at least one adverse childhood experience (ACE)
- Three in four adolescents exposed to ACEs develop mental health problems by the age of 18, including major depression, conduct disorder, alcohol dependence, self-harm, suicide attempts, and posttraumatic stress disorders (PTSD)
- In 2018, the suicide rate in women aged under 25 years had significantly increased since 2012 to its highest ever recorded level of 3.3 per 100,000
- Nearly half of 17–19-year-olds with a diagnosable mental health disorder have self-harmed or attempted suicide at some point, rising to 53% for young women
- In 2018-19, 24% of 17-year-olds reported having self-harmed in the previous year, and seven percent reported having self-harmed with suicidal intent at some point in their lives
- There was a 47% increase in the number of new emergency referrals to crisis care teams in under-18-year-olds between December 2019 and April 2021
This has a huge implication for schools and colleges to ensure that mental health issues are taken seriously and that access to services is available. Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) are overwhelmed and there are access issues to education psychologists across the country. Although these figures have been exacerbated by the pandemic, the trend had previously been on a downward trajectory. Findings from the Children’s Commissioner also show that local areas spend less than 1% of their overall budget on children’s mental health services.
For pupils with SEND the situation of lockdowns and continued affected access to support systems and therapy means the impact on parental mental health has been significant. 79% of parents of a child with SEND, in one study, stated that their own mental health had been negatively impacted during the lockdowns. The report highlights the barriers to accessing mental health support including waiting list times, stigma, lack of early prevention and intervention programmes, and many other reasons. Amongst the recommendations are mental health support teams in all schools by 2030 and new local frameworks supporting children across all areas of children’s services, schools, youth offending teams, social services and the police, ensuring integrated approaches.
As Anne Longfield, Chair of the Commission on Young Lives and ex-Children’s Commissioner, states:
“As our previous reports have shown, a collapse in many of the family and youth support services that existed ten or twenty years ago leaves us playing catch up. As one parent put it to us during our evidence sessions: ‘all the stuff that used to be there to prevent things happening isn’t there anymore.’ The mental health epidemic experienced by children and young people before the pandemic has not only grown but has deepened in its impact. Unless we rethink and improve access to mental health support, we risk putting the post Covid generation of vulnerable children in even greater danger of exploitation, abuse, and poor life chances.”