Children and Mental Health Services — [Mark Pritchard in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:11 pm on 16th July 2019.

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Photo of Gillian Keegan Gillian Keegan Conservative, Chichester 3:11 pm, 16th July 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. One in nine young people aged between five and 15 has a diagnosable mental health condition, so I thank my hon. Friend Andrew Griffiths for securing this vital debate. The issue becomes more pressing as figures suggest that those children are twice as likely to carry mental illness into adulthood. However, the Government are taking some action and have invested £1.4 billion to improve specialist services for mental health, but we are playing catch-up.

Pressures on the younger generation are at a new high with the advent of social media. There is a constant pressure to keep up on platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook, which is compounded when we look at their exposure to image and celebrity culture. Although social media can be a power for good, it is clear that such platforms can have a detrimental impact on children’s mental health. We have already had some truly devastating cases such as that of Molly Russell, whose suicide sparked this important conversation nationally. I welcome the current review by the chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, who is assessing the impacts that social media has on a child’s mental health.

Another mental health condition on the rise, especially in young people, is eating disorders. I recently met a constituent, Lizzie Speller, here in Parliament, with the charity Beat UK, which supports people with eating disorders. Lizzie spent several years fighting anorexia. She overcame her long battle and got the help that she needed. It is fantastic that four fifths of young people with eating disorders now receive treatment within one week. Lizzie is doing a lot to help others. She has set up Mental Health Mates walks, a Chichester community group that has a monthly city walk. My husband and I joined them earlier this year. It is an opportunity to meet and talk about things that concern people. The role of Beat is important in spreading the network across the country.

Another Beat ambassador is my goddaughter’s sister, Isabella Tee, who worked hard to overcome anorexia as a teenager and now works to support others at York University. Schools have a vital role in offering support and spotting the signs when people need help. Many schools in my constituencyChichester High School and Bourne Community College, to name just two—have done a lot to support mental health in schools and have trained mental health first aiders and pupil mental health ambassadors. On the ground, visible services are exactly what we need, and I look forward to seeing the impact of the new mental health support team pilot in my area, as the Coastal West Sussex CCG is taking part in the first wave.

Getting to grips with mental health is important, as the consequences of not doing so are unimaginable. On 17 July 2017, one of my constituents, Jo Marsden, had her life turned upside down when her 20-year-old son, Ned, took his life at Witley station. Ned had been excluded from school earlier in his life, and over the years had withdrawn from his family and friends. His mental health issues were well masked and not identified at school or later when his doctor tried to identify signs. I have met Jo several times now, and she is an inspiring woman. She has created Ned’s Fund, which offers vocational courses to young people who drop out of school. She said,

“My dream is to help as many children as I can by funding vocational training. I’m not a fairy godmother but nothing would bring me greater happiness.”

The impact of suicide on a young person is truly devastating, as my family knows from personal experience because my young cousin, Sallie Gibson, took her life some years ago.

People across Chichester continually come together to improve each other’s lives. Tackling mental health issues needs a comprehensive approach where, in every part of a young person’s life, someone is available to give a much needed helping hand.