Last week saw yet another damming report about the state of mental health services for young people; this one about absurdly long waiting times that many young people experience when trying to access the support they desperately need. Again, we saw statements from a range of charities condemning the existing system, widespread social media comment about consultation and research that is needed, and the Children's Commissioner calling for dramatic changes.
The response from the government is to point to the increase in investment, and the proposals of the green paper on transforming mental health provision for young people. You may not have read this paper, so let me sum up the proposals. There are 3 key "pillars".
· designated Senior Leads for mental health in schools
· creating Mental Health Support Teams
· reducing waiting times
Brilliant news yes? Well not exactly.
The plan is to deliver these changes "to at least a fifth to a quarter of the country by the end of 2022/23". Let's put that in context. Even if the proposals were successful implemented, in five years’ time three quarters of the country still would not have a Designated Senior Lead for mental health in their school, a Mental Health Support Team, or a plan for reducing waiting times. That's the plan to transform adolescent mental health services?
Having spent the last 15 years of my working life working with young people in secondary education, here is how I see the problem.
Young people need proactive emotional health support, and they need it now. Yes - fundamental, root and branch reform of mental health services is needed but that will take years if not decades to bring about, and (at the risk of repeating myself) young people need proactive emotional health support, and they need it now!
I believe that organisations working in their own local communities could be the key, and here’s why. I volunteer with an amazing community group called Kindness & Company. Several years ago, the founders of this group decided to offer a local solution to the problem of social isolation in their community. They set up a free community Christmas dinner on Christmas Day for people who would otherwise be spending the holidays alone. Last Christmas (in its 5th year) this group hosted an event attended by over a hundred people, and delivered Christmas hampers to over a hundred more. Is this group wiping out the horrible epidemic of loneliness across our country? Of course not – but it is enriching the lives of real people in this real community.
Over the last couple of weeks, I have been working together with three local secondary schools with the aim of delivering yoga and mindfulness sessions in their school. I am also working with my local GP surgery to deliver a yoga and mindfulness class in the surgery itself specifically for young people. These things will be happening by November. Not in a year’s time, or five years, or some as yet unspecified time sometime in the future. Is this going to transform the lives of the 1 in 8 young people across the country who are growing up with a diagnosable mental illness? Of course not - but it is going to provide some real young people with tools to help them improve their emotional health.
Our young people need our help now - and there are things that schools, health and social care services, and community groups, and even individual mindfulness teachers can do in their communities starting this week to provide this help.
There is no reason that this can't be done straight away.
I would love to hear from anyone who shares this optimistic view of the potential for change.
Ref: Transforming children and young people’s mental health provision: a green paper.