On 5th March, the Government announced an additional £79 million boost to mental health support for children and young people. Stating an additional “3 million children in England to be supported by mental health support teams in schools, around 22,500 more children and young people to access community mental health services and 2,000 more children and young people to access eating disorder services.”
This comes after several notable reports and events including: Prof Russell Viner, President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, declaring to the Education Select Committee in January that “When we close schools we close their lives. 15,242 fewer referrals of children and young people to NHS community mental health services in England occurred in March 2020, compared with February 2020 – a 21-per-cent fall and the 2021 Prince’s Trust Youth Index reporting half of 50% to 25-year-olds say their mental health has worsened since the start of the pandemic.
Whilst the numbers on the press report – “22,500 more children and young people” able to access support, “mental health support teams in schools and colleges will grow from 59 to 400 by April 2023.” On top of that, “contact within 48 hours and treatment within two weeks” for those with eating disorders will be a significant improvement.
One of the variables missed by the Government targets was Gender. “About one in four (27.2%) young women were identified with a probable mental disorder, compared with one in eight (13.3%) young men.” Despite double the figure of young women identified with a probable mental disorder there is no mention of specific, and crucial, gender targeting in the Government targets.
A second of these variables was “income.” Almost half of children unlikely to have a mental disorder came from homes where a parent had often worked at home during the pandemic compared with 39.1% of children with a probable mental disorder. Again “children with a probable mental disorder were more than twice as likely to live in a household that had fallen behind with payments (16.3%) than children unlikely to have a mental disorder (6.4%).” The NHS report stated “increased financial strain was strongly associated with child mental health,” and despite this no mention of “income specific” focus within the Government targets.
However, perhaps the most influential and dramatic variable not addressed by the Government’s targets are those with pre-existing mental disorders before the pandemic. “More than half (54.1%) of 11 to 16 year olds and 59.0% of 17 to 22 year olds with a probable mental disorder said that life was worse under lockdown.” This was clearly exacerbated by the situation where children with a probable mental disorder were “about five times more likely not to have eaten a family meal all week (4.8%), and not to have spent time together with their family (6.0%) than those unlikely to have a mental disorder (0.9% and 1.0%, respectively).” This trend is present in all activities.
Whilst the government’s £79 million pound boost is a start, it requires targeted policies and planning for the specifics. Without these, mismanagement of this situation could result in a mental health “pandemic”.
*All statistics on variables are from the “Mental Health of Children and Young People in England, 2020”