Children’s mental health services slashed by funding cuts

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Vital services for children and young people suffering from mental health problems are being cut across the country, according to the findings of a leading children’s mental health charity.

A survey by YoungMinds of health trusts and councils has found that more than half have cut their budgets for children and young people’s mental health services for 2011/2012.

YoungMinds is concerned that thousands of children and young people struggling to cope with mental distress may not get the help they need because of swingeing cuts.

The biggest reductions are in councils, with some reporting cuts of up to 25%, leaving essential early intervention services at risk.

Three children in every classroom have a diagnosable mental health condition and many first seek help for problems including depression, anxiety and self-harm from professionals in school.

But YoungMinds’s research shows that teams of specialist workers such as school nurses, who are trained to identify and treat children with emotional problems, are being disbanded.

Drop-in and counselling services are also among those being axed, while nurse and social worker posts are being cut in a number of areas.

Sarah Brennan, Chief Executive of YoungMinds,said: “Draining money from early intervention services will mean young people with problems will not be identified quickly and their problems will worsen, which will in turn push referrals to specialist services up and increase waiting times.

This is not only detrimental to young people and the increased suffering they will have to go through before they get help, but its also economically unsound  as more intensive support and treatment costs far more money. In a period of austerity this is short-sighted, and just stores up problems for the future as young people are left without access to early help, meaning mental health problems become more serious and entrenched.”

She added: “It is therefore vital that councils and NHS commissioners prioritise funding comprehensive CAMHS services as they begin to set their budgets for next year, to avoid deepening the potential damage that further cuts could cause to children and young people’s mental health.”

Dr Margaret Murphy, Chair of the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Faculty of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, said: “We are pleased that YoungMinds has highlighted this really important issue. We are aware that child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) are already increasingly overstretched. Our members are also concerned that, with planned reductions in budgets, services will be unable to provide vital treatment. Withdrawing money from services that work with children and young people who are in the early stages of developing mental health problems is short-sighted and a false economy.”

Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of charity Mind, said: “Prioritising children and young people's mental health is a fundamental part of the government's mental health strategy, and these figures are a reflection of how little decision makers understand about the importance of mental health care, and the devastation caused by not being able to get treatment and support when you need it. Axing spending on young people's mental health may look like a money saver, but in reality failing to treat mental health problems early only leads to more problems and more costs later on."

Caroline Holroyd, 22, a young person who suffers from anxiety and clinical depression, said: “I was helped greatly by a charity offering free counselling to young people. This service has had its funding cut dramatically and I worry for other young people who may not have access to this and similar services in the future. Without the help they gave me I would still be agoraphobic and suffering from crippling anxiety; they gave me back my life.”

School Leadership Today
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