The Children’s Commissioner for England Anne Longfield says that charities should be handed a greater role by government to deploy a national roll out of improved mental health support for young people.
This is a key recommendation in her fourth annual report into the state of children’s mental health services, which is published this week.
This found that mental health problems have been escalating among young people in recent years and are increasing further amid the Covid-19 health crisis.
The government has pledged to set up mental health support teams (MHSTs) to provide vital links between schools and mental health professionals in the NHS, but only in a fifth of areas over the next five years.
Longfield wants these set up nationwide, with charities vital to this roll out.
Damage to children’s mental health caused by Covid crisis could last for years without a large-scale increase for children’s mental health services - our report published today https://t.co/mCTzeClr4w— Children's Commissioner for England (@ChildrensComm) January 28, 2021
“In doing this we would like to see the government ensure a greater role for the voluntary sector within MHSTs to better incorporate existing charities and enable faster roll out,” she said.
This includes providing digital counselling through video and chat functions, which have been widely adopted by charities involved in mental health support during the pandemic.
“Providing digital mental health support, accessible at home but ideally provided through schools, is probably the quickest way to expand mental health provision in England, and possibly the cheapest,” added Longfield.
“This would mean more children could be reached, and would relieve pressure on exisiting NHS services.”
Her report found that serious mental health conditions among young people have risen by 50% over the last three years and a “staggering” one in six children now have a probably mental health condition.
Meanwhile, only one in four children with mental health problems are able to access support and this could worsen in the aftermath of the pandemic due to rising demand.
One 16-year-old boy that took part in the research said that “young people and children are suffering a lot more than people think they are. In my opinion, people underestimate how much young people and children are affected by these current circumstances”.