Covid-19 pandemic exposes mental health disparity for children across UK, MPs warn

Fiona Simpson
Monday, April 19, 2021

The Covid-19 pandemic has “exposed the UK as a patchwork of mental health disparity” for young people, MPs have warned in a damning new report.

One in seven primary school children has a diagnosable mental illness, MPs warn. Picture: Adobe Stock
One in seven primary school children has a diagnosable mental illness, MPs warn. Picture: Adobe Stock

According to the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on a fit and healthy childhood, the mental health crisis affecting children and young people revealed by the pandemic “may become entrenched long after lockdowns are history” unless it is urgently addressed by government.

Labour Party MP for Birmingham Selly Oak and chair of the APPG Steve McCabe said: “The pandemic has exposed the UK as a patchwork of mental health disparity, with a fluctuating standard of provision, courtesy of factors ranging from individual family circumstance and socioeconomic status to deep-rooted and stubborn funding failings; both at service and research levels – and even dependent upon which UK country you happen to live in.”

The report warns that, according to the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, one child in every seven in primary school class will have a diagnosable mental illness and that 75 per cent of mental illnesses begin before the age of eighteen.

“Unless the government uses all the information thrown up by the pandemic about the state of children and young people’s mental health and then discerns, learns and acts – we will be walking, ‘eyes wide-shut’ into the type of long-lasting communal health disaster that will not be capable of a fix via ‘two jabs in the arm,’ a mask and a booster,” McCabe added.

The report, which has contributions from 41 academics, charity sector professionals and children’s play specialists, calls on the government to develop and ring-fence new “sustainable” funding to improve mental health services for young people.

In a series of recommendations it also calls for a “root and branch revision” of child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS), improved access to mental health support in schools and “integral aspects of a healthy childhood to be available to all including outdoor play and access to outdoor spaces”.

A “radical expansion” of the UK’s research base around children and young people’s mental health and improved access to data must also be considered, MPs say.

Lead author of the report and chair of the APPG’s volunteer working group, Helen Clark added: “This mental health crisis is a ticking time bomb and yet the UK has some of the best scientists, academics, and health, education and childcare experts in the world today.

“Working with them, our government could avert what is gathering momentum in front of us and really ‘build back better’ by creating mental health services for children and young people for the benefit of a UK that is the sum of its parts – not just part of the whole.”

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