Children with mental health issues wait 10 years for support, report finds

Schools have an ‘important role’ in protecting children’s mental health and raising awareness, charity director says

Children with mental health problems are facing a delay of a decade between displaying their first symptoms and actually getting help, a new report has revealed.

Opportunities to offer timely and effective support to children are “often” being missed and schools can help, according to the Centre for Mental Health report.

While mental health problems among pupils are common, awareness is poor and many attempts by parents to get help for their children are unsuccessful, the report states.

In the 10 years that many UK children wait to get help, problems become “entrenched” and escalate until they reach “crisis”, the document warns.

Lorraine Khan, associate director for children and young people at the Centre for Mental Health, has said schools have a particularly “important role” in protecting children’s mental health.

“This can be done most effectively through a ‘whole-school approach’ including classroom-based skills development and awareness raising, anti-bullying programmes, raised staff mental health literacy, and speedy access to help for children who need it,” she said.

“We need to take every opportunity to support families and schools to build firm foundations for children’s mental health. We need to raise awareness of the first signs of poor mental health and reinforce the importance of getting early help.

“Waiting for a child’s mental health to deteriorate until it hits crisis point causes untold distress and damage to their lives and carries a heavy social and economic cost. We have to take action now to offer high-quality help quickly to children and young people everywhere.”

‘Letting down a whole generation’

Brian Dow, director of external affairs at the charity Rethink Mental Illness, believes an “inadequate education, limited support and stigma” around mental health is “letting down a whole generation”.

He added: “We need to see better support for parents and increased mental health awareness in schools; as well as improved access to services to put an end to this waiting game for treatment.”

A government spokesman said: “No one should have to wait too long for mental health care, or be sent away when in need.

“That is why we have introduced the first mental health access and waiting time standards in NHS history and are putting a record £1.4 billion into transforming support for young people in every area of the country.

“This funding will improve care in the community and schools to reduce waiting times and make sure young people get support before they reach a crisis point.”

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