Leader comment: Mental health failures cannot be tolerated

Professional psychotherapist during psychotherapy session with depressed teenager

Professional psychotherapist during psychotherapy session with depressed teenager

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A warning the NHS is failing young people with mental health problems is the latest indication the health service is straining at the seams.

According to an inquiry by the Scottish Parliament’s health committee, around one in five referrals for treatment of adolescents were rejected last year. That amounts to approximately 6,000 young people.

The figure is not only an indictment of a system crying out for funding, but also an indication of the way we still have to go to before the stigma surrounding mental ill health is fully dispelled. In no other area of medicine would these shameful statistics be tolerated and nor should they be in the treatment of mental illness.

The MSPs called for a “bold, visionary and ambitious” new mental health strategy – due to be published next year – to tackle waiting times it described as unacceptable for children, adolescents and adults.

And it called for the strategy to put at its heart measures to address the fact that those with mental health issues are more likely to suffer physical ill health as well as die younger.

The figures over adolescent referrals come despite one in ten young people between the age of five and 16 in Scotland having a clinically diagnosable mental health problem.

Those from low-income homes are also more likely to suffer.

Perhaps most worrying of all was the finding by the committee that there have been no significant improvements in prevention and early intervention work for 13 years. Anyone who has experienced the difficulty of getting mental health treatment for an adult or a child will know how difficult it can be.

This is not simply an issue around funding, but also numbers of specially trained consultants and outdated attitudes towards mental health issues which continue to exist even among those in the NHS.

Sometimes these issues can be a matter or life or death, but more often they are problems which if not properly treated can plague individuals for the rest of their lives and bring further pressure to bear on already stretched services.

The health committee report identifies huge regional differences in provision across the country and highlights services struggling to cope with demand.

In the words of the committee’s convener, Labour MSP Neil Findlay, that is simply not good enough.

There is no quick fix, solving this issue will take time and concerted effort. But the NHS must have more doctors and nurses trained to care for the growing number of those suffering mental health problems, particularly children and young people.

According to the committee of MSPs, initial engagement over the Scottish Government’s new strategy has led to concerns it may not be transformative or ambitious enough.

That would be incredibly disappointing and a missed opportunity.

A ten-year strategy of this sort has to be right at the outset – not just for patients but for the future of the NHS itself.

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