Children and Young People’s Mental Health: A Vision for the Future
The CEOs of three major charities joined PESI UK last week to discuss what’s next for children and young people’s mental health. Javed Khan of Barnardo’s, Catherine Roche of Place2Be and Victoria Hornby of Mental Health Innovations talked school reopenings, digital support and key learnings from Covid – as well as calling for a ‘radical systemic rethink’ in young people’s mental health services. As we mark the UK’s first Youth Mental Health Day, catch up on this essential panel discussion.
What does mental health support for children and young people look like in a post-pandemic world? What are the advantages and disadvantages of a digital model? Who are the ‘hidden victims’ of the coronavirus? At a time of economic crisis, how can we make the business case for increased investment in children’s mental health, and what place should therapists play in the future of service provision? PESI UK was recently joined by the CEOs of three leading charities to discuss key learnings, challenges and priorities for the Covid-era.
Drawing to a close PESI UK’s free Children and Young People’s Mental Health Summit, the panel discussion was an opportunity to survey the damage of the last six months, talk urgent strategy, and contemplate how the ‘new normal’ could include a more holistic and visionary approach to service provision. As Barnardo’s CEO Javed Khan put it, with reference to the CAMHS referral system and NICE guidelines, “The mental health system was broken before Covid… We’ve got to break free of some of those balls and chains of the past… The only answer to that is a radical systemic rethink”.
The panel began on a hopeful note, reflecting on the ways in which Covid has enabled and accelerated innovation within their organisations. But they were clear about the mental health toll for children and young people. Victoria Hornsby of Mental Health Innovations shared some striking figures from its crisis text line, Shout. Of the 40,000 under 18s who made contact over lockdown, 45 per cent had never sought help before. Barnardo’s has also seen an “enormous spike”, specifically in increased complexity of mental health needs, as Covid has pushed many “just-about-coping” families over the edge.
The panel also highlighted a disproportionate impact on the mental health of LGBTQ+ and BAME children, and Javed emphasised the dangers of digital poverty. Those who most need support are most likely to suffer from digital poverty, and therefore become lost within the system. These are the “hidden victims of Covid”.
This was one reason why the panel felt a ‘blended model’ is needed for future service provision: one in which digital and face-to-face support coexist and complement each other. All agreed that digital support, of the kind necessitated and accelerated by Covid, has introduced flexibility and accessibility to a prohibitively rigid mental health system.
But the challenge of safeguarding in the digital realm was identified as a key issue, with calls for stronger training in this area.
As schools reopen, the panel also discussed mental health provision within schools. Good mental health and wellbeing is an essential prerequisite for learning. So why is the national conversation around schools all about the need for an academic “catch-up”? What about addressing the trauma many pupils will have experienced from lockdown?
Catherine Roche of Place2Be, which embeds mental health services in schools, was clear: half of lifetime mental health problems start before the age of 14; we have to invest more in early intervention and prevention, which also makes economic sense by saving the government money in the long run. Place2Be is busy developing an online parenting programme, and has also created downloadable resources for teachers.
But these are tough times for charities, too. This point was made during the Q&A, when viewers questioned why charities are not offering more paid employment to trained therapists. The panellists acknowledged how a volunteer culture precludes diversity and inclusion in the therapy profession, which may prevent mental health services reaching some of those hardest hit by Covid. Meanwhile, the therapy community was valued for its potential expert and creative input into a more visionary approach to children and young people’s mental health – if only we can collectively convince politicians to make this a priority.
All eyes are on the next government spending review.
“This is a great moment for us all to stand together and try and influence the outcome of this spending review, so that the government puts significant additional investment in to this challenge,” said Javed. “Because if they don’t, the charities are not going to able to plug the gap, local government won’t have the resources to put services in in the first place, and a perfect storm is coming our way – and the most vulnerable will suffer the most.”