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Worries over South West teens as spending on child mental health spending falls

As the spending on child mental health services in the South West is cut, teens are ‘crying out’ for early help with mental health problems.

There are worries about the effect on South West teens amid falls in spending.

The Children’s Society announces plans to expand work on children’s mental health and emotional wellbeing.

Spending on child mental health services in the South West has fallen by almost half in three years, research from The Children’s Society has revealed.

An analysis of NHS England data shows that, between 2010/11 and 2012/13 – the latest year for which figures are available – health bodies in the region reduced their spending on child and adolescent mental health disorders from £89m to £49m.

It is the largest reduction of any region in England. London and the West Midlands also saw significant cuts in investment over the same period – down 35 per cent and 17 per cent respectively.

While funding in other areas remained stable, or increased, across England overall investment in Children and Adolescents’ Mental Health Services by Primary Care Trusts and their successor Clinical Commissioning Groups has reached a tipping point, with real-terms cuts of £79m over the three years.

That is despite a growing number of young people requiring mental health support.

The pre-election announcement of £1.25bn funding for children and adolescent mental health services in this year’s budget statement was welcome. But The Children’s Society argues it is vital that this funding is fully ring-fenced to make sure local areas can invest it in early intervention and specialist services, including targeted support for vulnerable older teenagers and victims of child sexual exploitation. In recent years, support services have been significantly undermined by insecure or short term funding, or have been shut down altogether.

The charity, which offers a range of counselling, befriending and emotional support services, including in schools, is planning to expand its mental health work following evidence from its frontline services that mental health problems among vulnerable young people are significant and growing. It is today publishing a policy paper setting out the organisation’s priorities for improving children’s mental health services in the coming years.

The organisation’s focus on mental health and emotional wellbeing comes against a backdrop of pressures on young people, such as exams, constant access to social media, and with research showing that many teenagers’ self-esteem and emotional well-being are worryingly low.

The charity believes school children should be supported to spot the early signs of mental and emotional stress so they can get help soon enough to prevent problems escalating into long-term mental illness. As part of this it is calling for a national focus on positive mental health, emotional well-being and resilience in schools and communities, through the curriculum as well as through targeted support.

The charity is calling for better access and support for the most vulnerable groups of young people who can often by overlooked by services, including older teenagers and those who may have experienced, or are at risk of, sexual abuse, domestic violence or homelessness.

It is also concerned that an increase in child poverty could lead to an increase in demand for child and adolescent mental health services. It plans to investigate how child mental health is impacted by debt, poor housing, unemployment, isolation and poor access to services.

Gary Thomas, Area Director for The Children’s Society in the South West, said: “Children and young people are under huge pressures and yet they are made to wait to receive the help they need with issues like depression or anxiety, if they are able to access help at all.

“The mental health needs of the most vulnerable young people in particular are so often overlooked when they are crying out for help to deal with the emotional impact of abuse and neglect. That’s why we are asking Government to ring-fence investment in this area, and why we hope to use our experience and expertise to prevent children’s mental health problems having lasting effects.”

Mr Thomas added: “We believe schools are the ideal places to start identifying and meeting the mental health and emotional needs of pupils at an early stage. They offer a safe environment for children and young people to address issues that can have an impact on mental health, such as low self-esteem, bullying, and exam anxiety. Through our work, we know all these issues can be early warning signs of future risks for young people such as running away, falling into gangs, and even being at risk of exploitation and abuse.”