“Mental health: Government urged to invest in charities helping marginalised young people”

By Joe Lepper

| 11 December 2018

Youth counselling services run by charities provide valuable support for young people who "fall through the gaps" of formal mental health services provision, a study has found, prompting calls for greater government investment in provision.

The research found that groups such as black and minority ethnic (BME) young people, older teenagers and young women are more likely to access informal support provided by specifically trained youth workers, than that provided in more formal settings, such child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) or school-based support.

This is because they are seen as less stigmatising and are being provided in more accessible locations, the research, which looked at the experiences of 2,144 young people, found.

While almost a third (31.2 per cent) of young people accessing charity-run services are from a BME background, this group of young people makes up 18 per cent of those attending CAMHS and only three per cent in school-based counselling.

"This suggests that such services may be more accessible and be perceived as less stigmatising than CAMHS and school-based counselling services by minority groups," states the research, conducted by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, the University of Roehampton, and advice and counselling network Youth Access.

Researchers said the success of charity-run services in targeting older teenagers and young adults is particularly important, as this group can often fall through gaps in mainstream support when their cases are transferred from children's services to adult social care.

The average age of those accessing charity-run mental health support is 20, compared with 12 in CAMHS and 13.8 in school settings.

In addition, the research found that the proportion of young people who showed improvement in their mental health was similar to those who accessed mainstream support through CAMHS. In both settings just over half show an improvement and around one third recover.

Patient satisfaction was also found to be higher than in mainstream settings, with 96.5 per cent of those attending charity-run sessions saying that it was "certainly true that they were listened to", compared with 84.6 per cent of those seen by CAMHS.

The research calls for more service commissioners to consider youth charity-based community mental health support for groups that are less likely to access mainstream provision.

"They should recognise the distinct opportunity that voluntary and community sector services may provide by being able to bridge the gap in provision as young people transition from child to adult services," states the report.

"Findings from this research also suggest that these services may be able to reach marginalised groups who may not be accessing other services."

All nine services involved in the research use the Youth Information Advice and Counselling Service model developed by youth counseling service Youth Access.

This focuses on supporting a young person with a range of issues including mental health, sexual health, relationships, homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction and legal problems.

"The voluntary sector isn't just picking up low-level cases and overflow from CAMHS. In the face of increasing demand, person-centred youth counselling services - on the high streets where young people live - are a cornerstone of a system that works for everyone," said Youth Access chief executive James Kenrick.

"Without investing in the largely untapped potential of the voluntary sector to serve the most marginalised young people, the government will fail to achieve its ambition to ‘transform' young people's mental health services - and, ultimately, will fail young people once more."

Official data obtained by the Children's Commissioner for England found that fewer than one in three children referred to CAMHS services receive treatment within a year.