Children's Commissioner Anne Longfield speaks out on young people's mental health

The struggle of living with anxiety and depression is “part and parcel” of growing up for young people who often miss out on getting the help they need.

Monday, 15th April 2019, 9:41 am
Updated Monday, 15th April 2019, 9:44 am
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The warning has been made by Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, who said she is concerned that, despite extra mental health funding being pledged the Government, the cash may not get through to those who need it.

Ms Longfield, who grew up in Otley, spoke to The Yorkshire Evening Post after she produced a report which found that spending on early mental health support for young people has fallen in more than a third of local areas in England.

She told how young people told her they were frustrated over a lack of access to “low level” support like school nursing, counselling and drop-in centres.

Ms Longfield said: “I have been doing this job for four years now and the most consistent thing that children have talked about is anxiety and for some depression.

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“It’s something that, sadly, I have come to realise is part and parcel of children for so many children.”

Last year national NHS survey results showed that one in eight five to 19-year-olds was experiencing at least one mental health disorder.

Ms Longfield said the pressures of exams and the increasing use of social media were adding to the problem. She said: “If you’re in a classroom then there are at least three or four children in that class who have a mental health disorder.”

In January, the Government has said mental health services will get a growing share of the NHS budget, worth around £2.3bn a year by 2024.

Ms Longfield said action was needed to make sure Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) around the country are spending mental health cash where it is intended. Her own research also found that local authority spending on low-level mental support varied widely in different parts of the country.

Ms Longfield said: “I would like the NHS to start collecting data. I would like them to look at how they can require CCGs to increase spending so they get parity with physical and mental health."

She also warned of the struggles young people face when trying to access specialist help for serious mental health conditions.

She said: “When children talk about specialist services they have horrific stories, where they say that if you’re suicidal, that’s not enough. “You need to have actually tried to take you’re own life.”

A Department of Health spokesperson said: “Early intervention is vital and we’re going further, piloting a four-week waiting time standard for treatment, training a brand new dedicated mental health workforce for schools across the country, and teaching pupils what good mental and physical health looks like.”

Warnings have also been that the Government is likely not to achieve a pledge to end the practice of mental health patients being sent long distances for care.

Latest figures show adult patients in England were sent away from their local area for a bed on more than 8,600 occasions in the year to January 31.

Some patients travelled hundreds of miles for a bed and most the placements were deemed “inappropriate” under NHS standards.

In Leeds, around 170 inappropriate placements were started in the 12-month period, according to NHS Digital.

A Leeds NHS spokesperson said: "Leeds CCG and Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust have together developed a strategic plan (supported by a significant financial investment) to support a range of new developments to address our out of area pressures.

"These include redesigning our community services to offer improved crisis and home treatment interventions from April, developing new service models specifically for older people and those in care homes, adding more clinical roles to support early discharge, developing improved supported housing options and and the planned development of a crisis house in the community as an alternative to admission."

The Yorkshire Evening Post launched the #SpeakYourMind campaign in October 2016 to help combat stigma surrounding mental health.

Support for young people in Leeds includes the MindMate website, which offers advice and help to access support services.

The site provides advice for students at the city's universities and colleges on coping with the pressure to fit in and make new friends

NHS, council and voluntary sector organisations set up the city’s Local Transformation Plan (LTP), which helped reduce waiting times for a first appointment with Child and Adolescent Mental health Services (CAMHS).