Stretched NHS child mental health services are ‘the untold scandal of our generation’, schools warn

Teachers feel ‘completely overwhelmed’ and say funding shortages are the biggest barrier to helping pupils, study finds

Teachers and school staff believe that stretched NHS services are a bigger barrier to supporting pupils with mental health problems than the stigma attached to the conditions, research finds, with teachers warning of a “chronic funding shortage” that represents an “untold scandal”.

In a survey by children’s mental health charity the Anna Freud Centre, 61 per cent of teachers said that the capacity of NHS child and adolescent mental health services (Camhs) was “very much” a barrier to supporting pupils and a further 30 per cent said it was “quite a lot” or “somewhat” a barrier.

By contrast, just 14 per cent said that attitudes towards mental health were “very much” a barrier, with 44 per cent saying they were “quite a lot” or “somewhat” an issue.

Gap in support

“[I] feel completely overwhelmed,” one respondent said. “I feel I have no specialist skills in the area and am struggling to support the number of students that present [with mental health problems].

“Also, lack of time means I feel we are not picking up the students early so that issues do not escalate. There also is a real gap in support for specialist services due to a lack of funding.”

According to the report: “The central perceived barrier to being able to support students’ mental health was not attitudes towards mental health problems, but rather the capacity of services.

“As such it seems particularly important to find ways to increase the availability of provision, both in the local area and within schools themselves, to support the mental health of young people.”

Storing up problems for the future

One respondent said that their school “doesn’t even bother referring [children] to Camhs unless we can justifiably say there is clear and present risk of significant harm to either themselves or others around them.

“The chronic funding shortage is just storing up problems for the future,” they added. “It is the untold scandal in education of our generation.”

Another respondent said: “Over the years the burden on schools to deal with mental health issues has increased dramatically, but here has been very little investment in this year. Schools are having to pick up the pieces that social services, the NHS and other organisations should be dealing with and schools lack the time, money and training to deal with the wide range of issues.”

The findings come after TES reported last month that teachers would be trained as “mental health first-aiders” as part of a new trial. A report published by the Association of School and College Leaders in March found that more than half of secondary school leaders had seen a large increase in the number of pupils suffering from anxiety and stress in the past five years.

The research published today involved a survey of 577 school staff that was carried out for the Anna Freud Centre last year.

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