Stephen McGhee - As we mark World Mental Health Day we need a Budget dedicated to tackling this major public health challenge

Published on October 10, 2018

Today (10th October) marks World Mental Health Day. It provides an opportunity for all stakeholders working on mental health issues to talk about their work, and what more needs to be done to make mental health care a reality for people worldwide.

This year’s theme, set by the World Federation for Mental Health, is young people and mental health in a changing world. It is appropriate for us here in Scotland as this year we mark the ‘Year of Young People’.

The well-documented statistics on mental health problems as they impact children and young people in Scotland are stark and speak for themselves, with more individuals than ever seeking help.

For example, it is estimated that by the time they’re 16, roughly three children in every class will have experienced mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression and self-harm. In addition, half of all adults who are mentally ill experienced the onset of their mental health problems by the age of 14.

Without effective intervention these conditions can clearly have a significant impact on their life chances, affecting not only the individual concerned, but wider society and the economy as a whole.

The increase in the number of those coming forward with mental health problems is of course a welcome sign that the stigma around mental health is reducing. However, this is clearly putting already stretched and under-resourced services under intense pressure.

That is why we need all partners working in the sector, including the Scottish Government, to re-focus on prevention and early mental health intervention, seeking to reduce the burden on costly specialist CAMHS provision.

The recent joint report from the Auditor General and Accounts Commission called for a ‘step change’ in the way the public sector responds to the mental health needs of children and young people. Like ourselves this notes a concern that the current system is geared towards specialist care and responding to crisis, despite the Scottish Government strategy being focused on early intervention and prevention.

As the Scottish Government reveals its Budget for the forthcoming financial year on 12th December, let us make this a ‘Budget for Mental Health’, where we are delivering significant investment in prevention, early intervention and specialist CAMHS.

The cost-advantages of prevention and early intervention when it comes to mental health cannot however be under-estimated. As an example, the cost of five sessions of school-based counselling being equivalent to just one contact with CAMHS. Therefore investing a fraction of the mental health budget on school counselling services helps to keep the individual in school, as well as reducing the burden on stretched and costly CAMHS provision.

The Scottish Government has made recent welcome moves to address this and in its Programme for Government it announced a significant investment in school based mental health support. This included investment of over £60 million in additional school counselling services, supporting 350 counsellors as well as £20 million for 250 additional school nurses. This will ensure that every secondary school has a counselling service.

Much has clearly been done, but there is still much work to be done to ensure Scotland’s children and young people can get the right care, in the right place, at the right time, and from the right professional.

For that to happen requires the private, public and third sector to work in closer partnership and for there to be significant investment in mental health services. In order to achieve this, let us make the forthcoming Scottish Government Budget a ‘Budget for Mental Health’.

Stephen McGhee is Depute Managing Director of Spark of Genius, which is a member of the Scottish Children's Services Coalition. This article first appeared in The Herald on 10th October 2018.

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