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Children and Mental Health

a child and her teddy bear sat with their backs to each other. There is a blackboard in the background

I have been talking about mental health very openly on my blog since 2015. When I first started doing this, I was fifteen and was going through some mental health problems of my own. One thing I noticed then, and still notice now, is that there are many people out there who seem to believe that children cannot have any form of a mental health problem or mental illness. This simply isn't true. I have had mental health problems for as long as I can remember and even wrote a blog post on the first time I had an anxiety attack, aged just seven. In today's post, I want to debunk the myth that children cannot have mental health problems/mental illness and why it is incredibly important for us to continue the campaign for children's mental health to be taken seriously.

I have recently completed a degree in Early Childhood and in my second year of study, I had to write up a report which included some information on children and mental health. Within this, I read a report from the Young Minds Trust, which stated that one in four young people have mental health problems (Young Minds Trust, 2019). In this report, I also found out that Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) only receives 8% of all NHS mental health funding. When the mental health services offered by the NHS are few and far between and incredibly underfunded, the fact that CAMHS receives such little funding is shocking. With an average waiting time to access CAMHS being six months and a ten-month wait before starting treatment, I was even more surprised to find out that the Departments of Health and Education had aimed to reduce this time by 2020/21 (which has not yet happened) (DHE, 2017) and the Five Year Forward View has set a target for service users to have started treatment within six weeks (NHS England, 2014) (which has also not yet happened), which begs the question of why, despite these targets having been set many years ago, these services are still failing our children.

According to the World Health Organization, one in six people aged between ten and nineteen have a mental health problem (WHO, 2020). In this age group, mental illnesses make up 16% of the global burden of disease and injury and 10-20% of adolescents globally have at least one mental illness. WHO also states that 50% of mental illnesses begin by the time someone reaches the age of fourteen, although these often go undetected, which could be due to a lack of understanding of mental illnesses at that age and the fact that mental illnesses which do go undetected often become progressively worse as time goes on. Depression is one of the leading causes of illness and disability in young people and WHO found that suicide is the fourth leading cause of death in those aged between fifteen and nineteen, with 90% of adolescents living in low and middle-income countries and 90% of adolescent suicides being from those who live in these countries. The time from when a child is aged between ten and nineteen is an important time in anyone's life, as it is the time when you are prone to the most physical, emotional, and social changes, as well as being exposed to poverty, abuse, and/or violence. Depression is the fourth leading cause of illness and disability in those aged fifteen to nineteen and is fifteenth in those aged ten to fourteen; with anxiety being the ninth leading cause in those aged fifteen to nineteen and sixth in those aged ten to fourteen. Childhood behavioural disorders, such as ADHD, are the second leading cause of disease burden in those aged ten to fourteen and is eleventh in those aged fifteen to nineteen. In 2016, around 62,000 adolescents died as a result of self-harm. We need to be doing more to protect children worldwide and to provide them with more early intervention strategies so as to prevent these mental health problems from escalating any further than they already have.

The issue with providing early intervention for children with mental health issues starts with the Government. The Local Government Association website, states that the funding provided by the Government for the Early Intervention Grant has been cut by nearly £500 million since 2013. It also states that public health funding, which is used to fund professionals such as school nurses and public mental health services, has been reduced by £600 million in 2020, compared to what it was in 2015. How are we supposed to sort out the child mental health crisis we are currently in and have been in for a LONG time when funding is being reduced by millions of pounds? On top of that, of the 338,000 children that were referred to CAMHS in 2017, less than a third received any treatment from them within that year and 75% of any child with any mental illness is being forced to wait so long to receive any form of treatment that their illness gets worse or it gets to the point where they can no longer access treatment. Couple that with the fact that some children may get to the top of the waiting list for CAMHS when they are seventeen and then as soon as they are eighteen they are no longer able to access that service (if they were even able to access it in the first place, that is) and have to be put on another waiting list for adult mental health services, which also have long waiting times to receive treatment.

We need to get better at providing sufficient mental health support for our children, and we need to get better at it now. I don't have all the answers right now and honestly don't know where I would start if I was in the position to do something about it (although actually providing adequate funding for these services would be a start, I guess). We are living in a world where mental illnesses aren't being treated on the same par as physical illnesses, even though they are both of equal importance. We could start by educating people on this issue and keep on trying to persuade those with the power to do so to stop cutting the funds to mental health services, for both children and adults. We need to make sure that interventions are put in place to prevent children's mental health from getting worse than it already is. We need to stop being so neglectful of mental health and mental illnesses and start putting the motions in place to put an end to this mental health pandemic we are currently and have long been, going through.

Love Beth xx

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