Mental Health of Children and Young Adults - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:14 pm on 16th May 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Massey of Darwen Baroness Massey of Darwen Labour 1:14 pm, 16th May 2019

My Lords, this is an important debate. I thank my noble friend Lady Royall for introducing it with such eloquence and for the information that she has supplied. I have listened to many moving speeches today containing evidence for urgent action on this issue.

I want to focus mainly on what young people themselves and their parents say about mental health services provision in schools. I draw on my experience of working with young people and parents and on evidence from the Association for Young People’s Health, of which I am a patron, and with which parliamentarians have just set up an All-Party Parliamentary Group on Young People’s Health. Our last meeting was on the mental health of students, with eloquent testimonies of some of the problems described by my noble friend.

I start with a quotation from a review by the Association for Young People’s Health, which spoke to parents about their concerns. One parent said about her daughter:

“She’ll come to me and she breaks my heart: ‘help me mum’, and I say, I promise I’ll help you pet, I’ll make sure you get help. And I feel like I’m banging my head against a brick wall because it doesn’t happen, it never happens”.

That sums up the situation described by many here today. We know that the situation is worrying. We know the Government have expressed concern in many ways and are putting money into their concern. However, there are problems of funding and of timing. This is an urgent issue. I feel that the situation is fraying around the edges, as described by some of my colleagues today.

I want to mention the aspect that concerns me most, as highlighted by the Local Government Association. Funding reductions to local authorities mean that many councils are being forced to reduce intervention work to support children and young people. The early intervention grant has been reduced by almost £600 million since 2013. Children’s services will have a projected funding gap of £3 billion by 2025. Youth clubs are closing, mental health services are overwhelmed and Sure Start centres are disappearing. I do not understand the logic of putting money into children and young people’s mental health, as this Government intend to do, when so many services are being eroded by these devastating cuts.

I turn to what young people and parents think about the state of mental health services and what might be done about it. I was involved in a seminar in Parliament in November 2016 at which young people, NGOs, academics and service deliverers met interactively and equally to discuss child mental health and child-friendly justice. Young people constituted half the group. One young woman said at the beginning of the seminar, “We are experts by experience”. That is why I make a strong plea for involving young people in defining problems and suggesting solutions.

Young people require protection and good services, but they also require empowerment to speak out and help themselves. Some points that the young people made in the seminar were about the stigma attached to mental health; the importance of cultural awareness in dealing with young people’s mental health issues; problems around consent and consensus for treatment; access to treatment, including waiting lists; there not being enough counsellors in schools; schools being too focused on academic results to note early warning signs—for example, eating disorders; a lack of sensitivity to vulnerable groups, such as BME and LGBT youngsters and those in the criminal justice system; and the negative impact of social media, which can also be a force for good—for example, with helpline support groups. They emphasised the need for campaigns of positive information about mental health. They suggested that good interventions include buddy systems in schools and youth services; committed, informed professionals; and awareness being raised by well-known, high-profile people speaking out.

I turn to what parents have said in surveys, and in particular to a project to support young people with mental health problems carried out two years ago by the Association for Young People’s Health. Some 41% of them said that agencies involved in mental health issues for children do not include or consult them. These parents created a network for parents, which snowballed into other networks. Things they found helpful were: the development of parent support groups; provision of more practical advice for parents; provision of mentors, support groups, helplines or advocates for parents; more consistency in how schools operate as intermediaries in involving parents; easier access to early intervention; crisis support; and acknowledgement that parents are important partners in helping young people recover. One sad and worrying thing that 36% of parents said is that they had had to resort to private treatment, because there was no access to CAMHS. I hope the Government will listen to this, and strengthen these services.

I do not have time to dwell on the local and national cost savings of tackling mental health problems, which are huge. Millions could be saved on this annually. However, the life chances of young people are being affected and the key to all this is the welfare and happiness of young people and families.