It's time to end CAMHS waiting game

Des Mannion
Friday, May 5, 2017

We know the devastating effect that delayed access to mental health support for children and young people can have.

Figures from health boards across England and Wales showed that nearly 19,000 children and young people were hospitalised for self-harm in 2015/16, an increase of almost 2,400 (14 per cent) in the past three years.

This worrying rise, with teenagers admitted to hospital for severe acts of self-harm, indicates the dire consequences of failing to provide the appropriate help when children need it the most.

Efforts have been made to encourage children and young people to talk to someone they trust when they are suffering from low mood and self-esteem issues.

This has been boosted by the Heads Together campaign recently led by the Royal Family with Prince Harry talking frankly to the media about his own mental health struggles.

But this has served to highlight once again that there is still a clear need for improved access to counselling, therapeutic services and specialist mental health support for young people who need it.

In Wales, even though the most recent government statistics show that 1,600 patients are still waiting over four weeks for a first outpatient appointment for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, we know some improvements have been made. Waiting times fell between August 2015 and November 2016 before stabilising at their current level. We hope that continued work can lead to these waiting times being lowered even further and, eventually, eradicated completely.

There are other signs of progress in Wales. The Welsh Government's approach to school-based counselling provision is to be commended. Following the successful piloting of a school-based counselling service more than 10 years ago, in which NSPCC Cymru was involved, the Welsh Government published the National Strategy for School-based Counselling Services. Now all secondary schools in Wales are required to make reasonable provision of counselling services for children and young people aged between 11 and 18.

But children and young people whose mental health difficulties are more severe require therapeutic and CAMHS services, so this will not always meet their needs.

Up to nine out of 10 children who are abused at an early age will go on to develop a mental illness by the time they're 18. But too often, it's only when a child is self-harming or on the brink of suicide, that support opens up for them.

It's unacceptable that a child who has lived through abuse needs to be at crisis point before they receive help. Last autumn we handed more than 30,000 signatures to the UK government demanding change.

With ever-increasing numbers of children and young people contacting Childline with suicidal concerns, increases in children admitted to hospital for self-harming, and victims of abuse and neglect facing waiting lists for support, it's clear that improvements to children's mental health provision are urgently needed across the board and across the different nations of the UK.

Des Mannion is head of service, NSPCC Cymru

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