Nicola Sturgeon backs plans for access to school counsellors

Nicola Sturgeon has indicated she will consider a proposal to give all Scottish schools access to counselling in an attempt to combat Scotland's adolescent mental health crisis.

Child mental health was raised in the first FMQs since the summer break. Picture: SWNS
Child mental health was raised in the first FMQs since the summer break. Picture: SWNS

The First Minister said she would look at a £8 million Scottish Labour plan to guarantee every secondary school in Scotland access to a qualified counsellor.

The proposal was brought up at First Minister’s Questions by Labour leader Kezia Dugdale, who said it was “exactly the type of early intervention the First Minister tells us she supports”.

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Ms Dugdale said: “Given we are the only country in the UK without a national strategy for school-based counselling, can I ask her today to seriously examine Labour’s proposals?”

Ms Sturgeon acknowledged the seriousness of the situation and said her Government would consider Labour’s plan.

It has been revealed that 934 children in Scotland contacted Childline last year about suicide – an average of almost 18 a week.

Meanwhile, in the last year 608 children and young people have had to wait 52 weeks or more to get help from the dedicated Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), according to Ms Dugdale.

The Labour leader warned that total could be “just the tip of the iceberg” as more than 9,000 CAMHS referrals have been rejected since January 2015.

Ms Dugdale described the number of youngsters forced to wait for 12 months or more as “utterly shameful and nothing short of a national scandal”.

She added: “It is also just the tip of the iceberg because since January last year more than 9,000 Scottish children have been referred to mental health treatment only to have that referral rejected or denied, and we don’t know why.”

Ms Sturgeon replied, saying: “If Kezia Dugdale wants to send me her proposals I will ensure that the Health Secretary considers them.”

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The First Minister admitted that “several hundred” young people had had to wait more than a year for help since the start of 2015 and stated: “That is far too many – one waiting more than 52 weeks is one too many.”

The First Minister told MSPs: “Demand for child and adolescent mental health services has increased by more than 30 per cent in the last two years.

“Actually, I take the view that that is a positive development – it doesn’t sound like it - but it does mean that the stigma around mental health is decreasing and more people, in particular more young people, are feeling able to come forward for help.”

She added: “The challenge that poses for us, the responsibility on my shoulders and the shoulders of the government, is to make sure in the face of that rising demand we are building up services to cope. We have plans to further increase that funding.”