Young people felt 'cast aside' by GPs as report highlights 'substantial gap' in mental health support

The Public Petitions Committee’s report comes nearly two years after the committee launched its inquiry into how young people access mental health support.

MSPs have warned of a "substantial gap" in mental health support for young people.
MSPs have warned of a "substantial gap" in mental health support for young people.

Young people felt “cast aside” by their GPs after attempting to access mental health support through the NHS which often led to self-harm or attempted suicide, a new report by MSPs has found.

The report, the result of an inquiry into mental health support for young people by the Public Petitions Committee, highlighted a “significant gap” in support despite the Scottish Government's commitment to ensure every secondary school has access to counselling services.

An inquiry was launched after a public petition was lodged by Annette McKenzie who had lost her daughter Britney following an overdose of prescription medication her mother did not know she was taking.

Britney, who had informed her doctor she suffered from depression and anxiety and was having suicidal impulses, was prescribed a month's supply of a betablocker in June 2016. Sixteen days later, the teenager took a fatal overdose.

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Ms McKenzie, from Glasgow, had lodged the petition to get the law changed so under-18s cannot be prescribed drugs to treat mental health issues without parental consent.

The inquiry found young people were often unaware of early stage mental health support available to the which often results in the young person being referred to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), only to be rejected for not meeting NHS board criteria.

The report states: “The evidence highlighted however serious concerns about the experiences of young people seeking help for their mental health. Some young people explained that they felt cast aside by their GP, despite their obvious signs of distress.

"In some cases, the distress escalated to such a degree that in the absence of any support, they worryingly turned to self-harming and attempting suicide as a way of coping with their mental health.

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"The Committee is concerned, despite such broad consensus, that many young people who are feeling low or anxious are still unaware or able to access the support that they require.”

Among the committee’s recommendations include setting out minimum level of mental health support guidance, produce clear pathways to support for young people, and commission work to identify how to best support parents and carers accessing information about their children’s mental health.

A public health campaign aimed at young people to raise awareness of the impact of Covid-19 on their mental health was also recommended, as was ensuring mental health first aid training is included in teacher training by the start of the 2021/22 academic year.

A review of the provision of school counsellors was also recommended.

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Committee convener, Labour MSP Johann Lamont said the picture was “troubling” and paid tribute to Annette McKenzie.

She said: “The Committee wants to recognise the work of Annette McKenzie, who has shown such courage in highlighting the concerns in her petition. She has done so in circumstances which no parent should ever have to face.

“During the Committee’s work on the inquiry, we have found a troubling picture.

“Though anyone can experience low mood, anxiety, or both, at some point in their life, when it comes to seeking support, young people often find themselves facing a cluttered and even confusing landscape, which too frequently does not provide the support needed.

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“While the Committee welcomes those measures announced by the Scottish Government to improve the situation, these are not enough to address the substantial gap that remains in the provision of mental health services, or to improve understanding of the help available.

“Therefore, we believe that the Government should work urgently with authorities to ensure that not only is there sufficient provision available at the local level, but that this is clearly communicated and easily accessible, both for young people and those they are turning to for help.

“The need for this work will only be increased by COVID-19, and its consequent impact on young people’s mental health.”

The Scottish Conservative’s health spokesman, Miles Briggs MSP, added: “This report paints an extremely troubling picture regarding the lack of early intervention for young people suffering from mental health problems.

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“Early intervention is the key, and yet the SNP government has presided over the longest mental health waiting times ever.

“With many referrals on hold over the last few months also, Scotland now faces a serious backlog of mental health cases, many of whom will be deteriorating daily.

“The SNP must get mental health services back up and running urgently, clear the backlog and start to provide the mental health support our young people so desperately need.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We do not want any child or young person to wait longer than they should for mental health treatment which is why we wrote to health boards earlier this month to emphasise that these services should be a clinical priority.

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"As part of this correspondence we have asked health boards set out plans for recovery of mental health services in their COVID-19 mobilisation plans and our guidance on continuity in learning makes it clear that specific attention to pupils’ mental health and wellbeing will need to be considered when schools return.

“In March we announced £2 million of new funding to local authorities to support the planning and development of new community mental health and wellbeing services for 5-25 year olds, their families and carers.

"We have also given £105,000 to support Young Scot to create Aye Feel, an enhanced digital mental wellbeing resource for children and young people, as part of a £1 million wider package of investment for mental health services.

“We have also confirmed an investment of more than £1 million to expand the Distress Brief Intervention (DBI) programme from the four existing pilots in Lanarkshire, Borders, Aberdeen and Inverness, across the whole of Scotland, to support young people presenting to frontline services in distress during these challenging times.”

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“We know lockdown is putting a strain on the mental health of many children and young people, which is why we are working closely with health boards to maintain the integrity and quality of services across Scotland during the coronavirus pandemic and, looking forward, to recovery.”

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