The NHS is a year ahead of schedule in rolling out mental health teams in schools and colleges across the country. Using innovative methods such as those in Gloucestershire where young people can refer themselves to their mental health team by text message, NHS mental health support teams are now in place in around 4,700 schools and colleges. 287 expert teams are offering support to children experiencing anxiety, depression, and other common mental health issues.
The hope is that by intervening early in the development of mental health issues, practitioners can prevent escalating into serious mental health issues. The danger is that after several isolating lockdowns and with growing pressures from social media, a spike in demand could leave services stretched and vulnerable young people with nowhere to turn.
Head of Mental Health Care in England, Claire Murdoch said the services will provide a “lifeline for many young people who are struggling and need some help”.
“Children’s lives have faced enormous disruption over the last two years which is why NHS staff and partners have worked flat out to fast track the roll out of hundreds of mental health teams in schools and offer support to millions of pupils, a year ahead of schedule.
Scale of Mental Health Issues
A record 650,000 children and young people were in contact with NHS mental health services over the last year – up from 534,000 compared to before the pandemic.
The NHS reports that probable mental health problems among six to 16-year-olds in England have risen from around one in nine in 2017 to around one in six in 2021. Around two in five six to 16-year-olds have also experienced a deterioration in their mental health since 2017.
The last two years have been particularly challenging for children and young people, so it’s important they can access support as early as possible.
“Our investment is paying off – the £79 million we have provided has allowed the NHS to accelerate the rollout of mental health support teams and expanded community services so tens of thousands more children can get help.Gillian Keegan, Minister of State for Mental Health
“We’ve also opened a call for evidence to gather views from people of all ages to inform a new 10-year mental health plan to keep the nation in positive mental wellbeing and I urge people to respond”.
Proactive action to prevent future mental health issues can only be a good thing. It is also good news that at least in one area the NHS are ahead of where they want to be and not stuck in a waiting list. Evidence points to the corrosive effects of the pandemic, social media and our ‘always online’ culture and waiting for people to exhibit symptoms of a crisis is both a terrible strategy for helping people and a monstrous waste of potential.
This is an area where tricky trade-offs need to be made to maximise access while keeping costs down. Innovation and technology will be crucial for ensuring people have access to mental health professionals while minimising NHS spend where people will not benefit from help.
The rollout of mental health teams in schools is good news, but vigilance will be required to ensure that services are both useful and cost effective.