In response to Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week, Boris Johnson announced that the government has appointed Love Island star Dr Alex George to be the nation’s youth mental health ambassador. The A&E doctor has been tasked with prioritising mental health in the wake of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic which has had a devastating impact on children and young people’s mental health.
However, the problem goes far deeper. Thanks to a decade of Tory austerity, children’s mental health services are at breaking point and have been for years. Service users and campaigners took to Twitter to highlight the government glossing over the deeply entrenched problems of a criminally underfunded, understaffed service.
Mental health campaigner Ilona Burton shared some shocking facts about government cuts to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS):
CCGs had only seen £75m of the £250m they’d expected in that first year.
– Since March 2020, referrals to CAMHS for eating disorders has risen by over 50% in some areas
– Lewisham Council is currently planning to cut £250,000 from its contribution to CAMHS
— ilona burton (@ilonacatherine) February 3, 2021
“Underfunded” and “understaffed”
Steph Horrocks highlighted their experience of being rushed through an “underfunded/understaffed” system:
My own experience with CAMHS at age 16/17 felt very rushed and lacking in real support, and that is 100% *not* the fault of the doctors I spoke to, but rather a systematic issue that causes everyone and everything to feel spread too thin.
— Steph Horrocks (@svhorrocks) February 3, 2021
One parent recalled children’s mental health services letting down her son with autism on a number of occasions:
I saw CAMHS trending and I felt my anxiety spike. Can't tell you the number of times it let down my ASD son. Tell me, how bad do you actually have to be to access its 'services'?
— Poppy Cooper/ Kirsten Hesketh (@Kirsten_Hesketh) February 3, 2021
A former service user shared their experience of late diagnosis:
Ironically, I was diagnosed 5 years later in the same CAMHS service. But many of my mental health problems could have been prevented, or at least reduced if I understood who I was
— Louisa (@lou_bradshaw) February 1, 2021
Jessica Thorman highlighted an issue that many young people face – an end to support upon turning 18. The abrupt removal of mental health support at this stage in life can be extremely disruptive and detrimental to young people’s mental health:
I was dropped by camhs two days before my 18th birthday (august) unrecovered, without ANY aftercare, had been in a&e in the June and the only number I was given was Samaritans. WE NEED CHANGE.
— Jessica Thorman (@Jessicahelenlee) February 3, 2021
What needs to change?
Centre for Education and Youth associate Alix Robertson concluded that children’s mental health services need proper funding and government support:
We don't need a 'Youth Mental Health Ambassador' to 'raise the profile' of mental health education and wellbeing in schools. There are lots of people out there working really hard on this already. What the system needs is more funding and better support from government #CAMHS
— Alix Robertson (@AlixHRobertson) February 3, 2021
Beyond funding, co-founder of the Speak Up Space suggested that children’s mental health services are in dire need of reform:
There’s CAMHS discourse today and all I’m gonna say is this. That service is in desperate need of reform. We need increased participation in the development of services, additional training that is implemented by participation groups, entry criteria reviewed and so much more.
— Pheebs (your fav fat gal) (@fatpheebs) February 3, 2021
It’s clear that the government’s ‘focus’ on children’s mental health this week is a sham. Children and young people don’t need a celebrity ambassador, they need real support provided by fully funded services and trained staff with capacity to help them. If the government keeps cutting away at these vital services, the consequences for the next generation will be utterly devastating.
Featured image via @BorisJohnson/Twitter
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