A Call to Properly Fund Young People’s Mental Health Service

The capacity of mental health service for young people (CAHMS) has been much in the news again – waiting times are too long, serious problems are being left too long and permanent damage is being done to some young lives including, in the most tragic cases, the premature end of those lives.

The usual arguments swirl. It is not at all about the quality of those working in this area of health care, who are expert, caring and committed. It is about capacity, referral systems and funding. It is also about society and attitudes. There is still a side-show about whether there is more mental ill health in the young, could they toughen up, could it be avoided? If social media is the cause of mental health issues increasing (and who knows) talking about that makes no difference to the immediate issue – that there are issues and they are not being dealt with properly.

For some, there have been tacit and sometimes explicit shifts of social care duties to schools – the first triage of policing (Prevent for example), of social work (early help interventions), of physical health care (health, relationships and sex education) are all in schools. Now mental health screening happens there as well. That could work, but it will need a plan and it will need funding.

Of course, teachers work all the time with families and their children. They will see issues. And then there is a disconnect. Asking a family to visit the GP, to get a referral to CAMHS sometimes adds a fatal gap where families, for many reasons, do not take that step or the GP misjudged what they are told or is not able to see the pattern the school saw. And, even if that referral happens, the wait can be too long. Many issues can be much reduced in size and time by timely action. There is also inequality. The better off can afford a private referral and have action more quickly. Some schools afford counsellors and others do not.

While we debate as a society why the young seem to be having more issues than we think we admitted to at their age, let’s take some urgent remedial action by funding this area as it should be.

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