Nigel Henderson: More action needed on mental health

Mental health issues are being talked about more widely but our children need more effective help. Picture: John Devlin
Mental health issues are being talked about more widely but our children need more effective help. Picture: John Devlin
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We do not take everything with us when we leave childhood. At some point on the journey to adulthood, most of us will put away our childish things.

Sadly, far too many children will take mental health issues with them and enter adulthood with debilitating problems that can, if nothing is done, blight their lives for many years.

The research is clear, the figures relentless. In Scotland, one in ten children, most from our poorest postcodes, start school with social, emotional or behavioural difficulties. Half of mental health problems in adulthood begin before the age of 14 and 75 per cent before 24.

We know what works, of course, and how best to help children and young people at risk. Early intervention and prevention have been shown to significantly reduce the chances of developing acute mental health problems later in life.

The most alarming figure in statistics detailing the challenges facing children from our most disadvantaged neighbourhoods is that referrals of more than 5000 young people are rejected by Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services each year because their condition is not serious enough. Not serious enough yet is a more accurate diagnosis.

Without expert help, their mental health will almost certainly worsen, their family life will come under even more stress, and the chances of them reaching adulthood in good mental health will recede month by month, year by year. Meanwhile, with every year that passes, the expert help and support they need becomes more critical and more expensive. The need for pre-Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, services like those provided by Penumbra and other experienced, expert charities, has never been greater. Consistent, effective work to ease the impact of mental health issues on children and their families demands consistent, effective planning between councils, integrated joint boards and the third sector.

We should be sharing our expertise to make the greatest possible difference and the Coalition of Care and Support Providers Scotland, representing the leading charities working with Scotland’s children, have launched the #plan4children campaign urging candidates in May’s elections to promise greater partnership.

The Scottish Government’s ten-year mental health strategy was published earlier this month when the ambition and the vision were welcomed. However, the strategy, while big and bold, was far heavier on aims and aspirations than detail. Out of 40 specific recommendations, just one had a budget and only six had a timeline. Without detailed, measurable actions, it is hard not to see it as a wish-list rather than a road map.

It is good that mental health is being talked about more widely, that understanding is increasing. It is good that our country’s mental health is seen as politically, culturally and socially important.

That greater understanding shows we have raised awareness but now it is time for action. A healthy nation demands it. Our ­children deserve it.

Nigel Henderson is chief executive of Penumbra