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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:32 pm on 16th July 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 3:32 pm, 16th July 2019

I congratulate Andrew Griffiths on securing the debate.

It is a tough time for children to be children. When I was a child, which was not yesterday, I went to school, came home and did my chores, then went out to play with the rest of the children. We did not have much, but it was all we knew. That is not the case now. Children are under so much pressure to have the best gear, go to the right places and look and behave a certain way. There is no closing the door at night to get away from the pressure; social media follows them everywhere.

I was horrified, but not surprised, to read that one in 10 schoolchildren in Northern Ireland has a diagnosable mental illness, and that 35,000 children had been treated by child and adolescent mental health services in 2018. The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee has just done an inquiry on education and health that reinforced those figures. Indeed, I have had parents in my office whose child is on the waiting list for the CAMHS team and who cannot get on it, and there are many more who should be on the list and are not, so the real number must be well above 35,000.

Schools find themselves on the frontline of dealing with day-to-day anxiety and trying to help, but it is not enough. An article quotes Dr Phil Anderson, a consultant psychiatrist in CAHMS with the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, who says:

“The research shows there has been an increase in the emotional difficulties in children, a 50% increase since 2004.”

That is an absolutely horrendous figure. He continues:

“There are various reasons given for this. One is social media and the rise of cyber bullying and screen time. Some people have said it’s as a result of rising economic inequality and, of course, academic pressures.”

We do not have the tools to deal with that, but our young people are crying out for help.

A young lady in my constituency, Katie Graden Spence, who recently shadowed me in this place, has been open about her struggle with anxiety and mental health. She published a poetry anthology, “Searching for freedom”, which paints the scene of emotion in many young people. Katie was a finalist in a prestigious category of the Pramerica Spirit of Community awards in recognition of her poetry and fundraising for Action Mental Health, as well as her work to outline her proposals on peer-led mentoring in schools to the Department for Education and the all-party parliamentary group on mental health. She is inspirational and inspired. She is fighting those battles for herself and for others her age whom we are failing. We must ask ourselves about that.

I am thankful to the hon. Member for Burton for raising the issue, but I will be more thankful to learn how we are going to radically change how we deal with children’s mental health in the UK. Children are struggling. They need us to do more. I look forward to hearing how we will put funding in the right places and guarantee controls on social media to prevent cyber bullying and trolling, to ensure that young people know that they are loved and important, and that they matter in their home, their community and here in this place.