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Mental health support for young people needs long term and sustainable investment

Young people will be left without vital mental health support unless the Government invests in services where they are most needed, claims a report.  

The report, from the NHS Confederation’s Mental Health Network, says there is growing concern that the mental health system for children and young people in England is reaching a “tipping point”, as the COVID 19 crisis brought with it uncertainty and anxiety caused by the lockdowns, school closures, isolation from friends and peers, bereavement and loss, and extra stresses and pressures on families.

The pandemic has worsened existing challenges, including health inequalities, with potentially serious consequences, in particular for the mental health of children and young people from BME backgrounds, lower-income backgrounds, those who identify as LGBTQ+, and those with special educational needs or neurodevelopmental differences. 

Without investment, there is a real risk that mental health problems will follow them into adulthood, with more serious and complex issues in years to come, pushing up both personal and financial costs. 

The report, Reaching the tipping point: children and young people’s mental health, identifies how demand for mental health support for children and young people across all services has already grown significantly since the pandemic, with the number of children and young people contacting mental health services rising by nearly a third in the last year.

In March 2020, there were 237,088 children and young people in contact with mental health services, compared to 305,802 in February 2021.

Also, at least 1.5 million children and young people may need new or additional mental health support as a result of the pandemic, according to modelling from the Centre for Mental Health.

In particular, demand for support for eating disorders has risen dramatically over the course of the of the pandemic. The number of young people receiving urgent treatment for eating disorders increased by 141 per cent between the last three months of 2019/20 and the first three months of 2021/22.

The NHS Confederation is calling for additional funding from the Government in the imminent Comprehensive Spending Review to tackle the growing demand among children and young people within the NHS and local authorities, as well as in schools and other educational settings.

In the last spending review, £79 million was set aside for 2021/22 to support the NHS to care for children and young people with mental health problems, as well as an additional £40 million announced in June and £17 million for mental health initiatives in schools.

However, leaders are clear that these short-term emergency cash injections need to be replaced with sustainable funding for the longer term given the levels of demand for mental health support they are seeing.

Failing a generation

Sean Duggan, chief executive of the NHS Confederation’s Mental Health Network, said: “A generation of children and young people requiring support for their mental health risk being failed because the NHS is not being adequately resourced to support them.

“While health leaders are grateful that investment from the Government has begun, as well as for the prioritisation children and young people’s mental health has been given, the continued toll of the pandemic has shown that it may not be enough to respond to the rising demand for their services.

“Funding must be both long-term and sustainable.”

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