18/05/20 – Mental Health Awareness Week : but new survey shows one in four children and young people with mental health problems can’t get help – Helen Clark Writes

This is Mental Heath Awareness Week and this year’s theme is ‘Be Kind.

But the words are bound to feel empty if you are a child or young person under the age of 18, because a new survey by the charity Young Minds has found that a staggering one in four children and young people now receive no help at all for mental health problems due to an unprecedented disruption to services since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

This is a further reduction to services already deemed inadequate and totally unfit to cope with what had been described as a national crisis in children’s mental health even prior to COVID-19.

That is why many have hoped that Boris Johnson’s proposed reform of the 1983 Mental Health Act would provide a fresh start for 21st century children – one that placed them at the heart of each and every beneficial measure. But now the mental health of children and young people has suffered a further reversal as they find themselves in a ‘Catch 22’ situation: existing services radically reduced or scrapped entirely because of the pressure of COVID-19 and a new, unprecedented rise in levels of anxiety, depression and mental health disorders, sometimes involving incidence of psychosis in individuals who have never before experienced poor mental health.

Young Minds surveyed a sample of 1,850 UK parents and carers; 750 of whom had a child who had already received mental help support during the course of the previous three months.

The results of the survey showed that:

  • 25% of the 750 group said their child could no longer access help from the NHS, helplines, private providers, charities or school counsellors
  • NHS services had been suspended indefinitely or restricted
  • Changed service provision was dependent upon access to remote forms of communication such as telephone or video contact
  • Young people and children were struggling to cope with isolation, disruption to education and other routines, anxiety about the future; experience of new and traumatic behaviours at home

A spokesperson from the Department of Health and Social Care said that an additional £5 million had been given to mental health charities to help them to cope with the changed circumstances and increase in demand and that users should continue to seek help from the NHS in the usual way.

However, Chief Executive of Young Minds Emma Thomas responded:

‘Despite huge efforts from mental health professionals, young people with existing mental health needs often can’t get the same level of support as they had before the crisis.

As our survey shows, many parents and carers are deeply worried about the long term impact of the pandemic on the young people in their care, and don’t know where to turn for advice and support.’


Helen Clark; APPG Lead Author said:

Nobody doubts that this is a uniquely terrible situation and there will be new pressures on mental health services and, sadly, children and young people are also presenting with mental health difficulties for the first time as a direct result of the pandemic.

However, the situation has been radically worsened because services were at such a very low point beforehand anyway!

Mental health services have always been, in effect, Cinderella services and certainly neither the present Government nor its predecessors have done anything to incentivise the field for the brightest new graduates. Add this to the continued uncertainty about CAMHS and the lack of preparation and planning for the proposed switch of services from health settings to schools – and there is a potentially explosive cocktail lying in wait.

COVID-19 has served as the detonator!

An extra £5 million is welcome – but the floodgates have burst asunder.

It is vital now to ensure that the promised reform of the 1983 Mental Health Act proceeds apace – and that children’s needs are enshrined in every part of it. Mental Health Awareness Week enjoins us ‘to be kind.‘

The kindest thing we can do for our children is to get them mental health legislation that is fit for their purposes at all times and not just at the height of a pandemic. That would make Mental Health Awareness Week 2020 truly special – and extremely kind!

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