Blogpost: Children’s mental health and the postcode lottery

AS the Children’s Commissioner criticises the ‘postcode lottery’ of spending for low-level child mental health support, the NSPCC’s Campaigns Manager Emma Motherwell looks at the children’s mental health crisis.

A Children’s Commissioner report this week has once again highlighted the fragmented nature of mental health services for children in England.

We already know that less than a third of children with a mental health problem are accessing treatment and support and this report shows that in more than a third of the country spending on low-level services is decreasing.

While the government has made more funding available, cuts to local authority budgets mean that support for problems such as depression, anxiety and eating disorders are simply not available for many children.

The commissioner highlighted a “postcode lottery” for low-level mental health treatment which includes vital preventative and early intervention services to treat problems before they escalate.

Councils in the East of England are spending far less per child on these low-level services, which include support in schools, drop-in centres or online counselling, compared with their counterparts in London and the North East. The picture is the same when it comes to NHS spending.

At a time when demand is increasing it is simply not good enough that children are being short-changed by cuts to spending on early intervention mental health services. Whilst the government has committed to the roll-out of new school-based mental-health support teams, this is only set to cover a quarter of the country.

When we hear from tens of thousands of children every year through Childline who are dealing with various mental health and wellbeing issues, with some telling us we are their only source of support, it’s clear that central government and the NHS need to act now to make sure children can access the right support at the right time, no matter where they live.

In these difficult financial times, it remains vitally important to prioritise the mental health of our young people and that they don’t suffer in silence.

If a child opens up to you about their struggles, encourage them to make an appointment with their GP and let them know that NHS 111 is available out of hours to call at a time of crisis.

But if this is too daunting for them, or they don’t know who to turn to, they can contact Childline, which is completely confidential. We’re there – 24 hours a day, seven days a week – to listen to young people and suggest ideas to help their situations.

The Childline website includes sections on managing anxiety and getting through a tough time. These reassure young people that they are not alone and offer practical coping strategies which they can use straight away, such as writing down how they feel, doing breathing exercises and eating healthily. There are also helpful videos on the site.

There is also a messaging board where young people can share their experiences and get advice from others.

Children and young people with any worries can contact Childline on 0800 1111 or visit www.childline.org.uk.

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