Mental health problems include depression, anxiety, eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, ADHD and self-harm.
Research indicates that 10% of children and young people (aged five to 16) have a clinically diagnosable mental health problem, around three in every class, and 20% of adolescents may experience such a problem in any given year. These mental health problems disproportionately affect those from lower-income households and areas of deprivation.
However, it should be noted that these figures are some years out of date and are widely recognised as having increased significantly, especially given the devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the mental health of many children and young people.
Child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) embrace the range of services across agencies – NHS, local authorities, third and private sectors – that contribute to the mental healthcare of children and young people (and their families and carers).
We are in a mental health crisis, with an increasing number of those experiencing mental health problems recognised as one of the greatest public health challenges of our time.
However, the number of children and young people seeking treatment for such problems has increased significantly, including those presenting with more complex needs. The impact of a lack of resourcing, including staffing, means that services are overstretched and unable to adequately satisfy this demand.
We are seeking a radical transformation of our mental health services, ensuring that children and young people are able to get the help they need, when they need it, delivered in the most appropriate setting. This will serve to improve their mental health and wellbeing.
In order to achieve this we are campaigning for substantially increased investment to deliver a wide range of high-quality, well-resourced and quickly accessible mental health services. This includes the provision of adequate staffing and appropriate primary care, community-based support and specialist inpatient services.
We are also seeking greater collaboration between public, private and third sector service providers, so that those children and young people with mental health problems receive the best possible support, tailored to their individual needs.
A focus on prevention and early intervention
Due to the current demand on services many children and young people with mental health problems, for which an early diagnosis and treatment are essential, are not receiving appropriate care and support.
We are seeking a renewed focus on early intervention, along with preventing poor mental health and promoting wellbeing. This includes greater investment in primary care and community support, as well as more support within schools, such as access to counselling services. Adequate provision can reduce the need for referral to more costly specialist CAMHS which are under considerable pressure, often resulting in lengthy waiting times for treatment.
Increased investment is vital to the delivery of more efficient and effective mental health services, with a renewed focus on prevention and early intervention.
If a child or young person with mental health problems is left without support and access to treatment the worst their outcomes are, resulting in a potentially high cost to the economy and society.
The Scottish Association for Mental Health has highlighted the social and economic impacts of these problems if they are not treated and persist into adult life. Those affected, for example, are more likely to die younger, be unemployed, become homeless, or end up in costly long-term care.
Ensuring that children and young people with mental health problems can quickly access the appropriate treatment is vital in supporting them to reach their full potential.
Our campaigning is currently focused on two key areas of concern:
The Scottish Government has set a target for the NHS in Scotland to deliver a maximum waiting time of 18 weeks from a child or young person’s referral to treatment for specialist CAMHS. This is in itself still far too long and would not be tolerated for those with physical health issues.
Faced with a greatly increased demand on services and a lack of resourcing, including inadequate staff numbers in certain areas, the NHS in Scotland is failing to achieve this waiting time target. With a considerable variation in waiting times between regional health boards, this has led to a ‘postcode lottery’ when it comes to the treatment of those with mental health problems.
Any delay in diagnosis and appropriate support for the child or young person concerned, as well as for their family, can have a devastating impact. Investment in these services will also serve to prevent longer-term economic and social costs.
We are seeking to ensure that all health boards meet the 18-week waiting time target, with action plans that include clear, funded and measurable timetables put in place for those currently failing to meet this.
Despite increasing demand there are only 48 specialist hospital beds provided within the NHS in Scotland for children and young people (aged 12 to 18) with mental health problems. These are located in three CAMHS inpatient units – Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee – with no provision north of Dundee. There is a further six-place unit for those aged five to 12 in the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Glasgow.
Under the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003, a responsibility is placed on health boards to provide accommodation and services to meet the needs of persons under the age of 18.
However, a lack of specialist beds for children and young people who require inpatient mental health care means that they are sometimes forced to remain at home, often with the individual’s condition deteriorating and the family reaching crisis point.
Some are admitted to CAMHS inpatient units which are often far from home, leaving them isolated from family and friends, which is detrimental to their recovery.
Others are admitted to non-specialist adult mental health or paediatric hospital wards, settings often inappropriate for their circumstances. Figures from the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland indicate that there were 118 admissions, involving 101 children and young people (under the age of 18) to such non-specialist wards in 2018/19, an increase on the previous year (103 admissions involving 90 children and young people).
In addition, there are no secure intensive psychiatric care units in Scotland for children and young people with severe mental health needs that require this care. There are also no specialist inpatient facilities for those with a learning disability and/or autism spectrum disorder.
We are seeking to ensure that a child or young person requiring inpatient mental health care receives it in a timely manner, delivered in an appropriate setting.