Early support mental health hubs, easily accessed without referral, are needed to tackle the rise in mental health problems among young people, the Local Government Association has urged.
Mental health practitioners and health and wellbeing practitioners would be available at the centres, which currently exist in some places. Young people can also access various other services which support young people’s mental health and emotional wellbeing including youth services, sexual health and drug and alcohol support before they hit crisis point.
Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: “Councils are concerned that mental health issues will continue to rise significantly, either this year, or in years to come, which could lead to increasing numbers of young people developing serious issues and a rise in clinical interventions.
“It is crucial that early intervention and prevention services are able to help children avoid reaching crisis point in the first place. Making early support hubs available for young people across the country to access mental health support without referrals will help reduce delays in receiving support which risks children and young people damaging their health and needing long-term support,” she added.
NHS data recently revealed that one in six children aged between six and 16-years-old have a probable mental health problem in 2021, up from one in nine in 2017. Among 17-19 year olds, mental health problems rose from one in 10 in 2017 to one in six in 2021.
Analysis by the Royal College of Psychiatrists revealed that more than 190,000 patients under the age of 18 were referred to children and young people's mental health services between April and June this year - up 134 per cent on the same period last year.
According to the Centre for Mental Health, an estimated 1.5 million children and young people will need support for their mental health as a direct result of the pandemic over the next three to five years.
Furthermore, the Children’s Commissioner has said that it is “highly likely that the level of underlying mental health problems will remain significantly higher as a result of the pandemic”.
The LGA, which represents councils in England and Wales, is urging the Spending Review to provide long term investment so the hubs can be rolled out by councils and local health leaders nationwide. This would enable councils to have a key role in tackling rising mental health issues which they expect to trigger a significant rise in referrals for children’s support services, which could lead to increasing numbers of young people developing serious issues and a rise in clinical interventions.
The hubs would be accessed without referrals from doctors or schools and offer support up to the age of 25. Based on an early intervention approach, the hubs would help provide alternative support models to current school-based interventions. They would help plug gaps in support, especially for those whose needs are not ‘mild to moderate’ - the group that current school-based mental health support teams are designed to support - but also not serious enough to meet the referral criteria for specialist services and therefore do not meet the threshold for support.
The LGA proposes that local authorities, which have a lead role in managing the hubs, should be seen as partners in tackling the mental health demand of the population and it should not be seen solely as an NHS issue.
Some of the hubs which are already established are reporting social and economic benefit returns of more than triple the money they invested.
As well as calling for long term funding to support a national roll-out of early support hubs, the LGA is also urging government to make its £500 million Youth Investment Fund – announced two years ago in September 2019 – available as soon as possible to help councils have enough funding to ensure youth services are available for local young people to help their mental health.
Cllr Anntoinette Bramble added: “Councils have a vital role in helping everyone with their mental health and wellbeing and have been working with partner organisations to run innovative schemes to help support children’s mental health and wellbeing during the pandemic. Councils need to continue to have a lead role in working to improve mental health for young people, which needs to be supported by long term funding.
“Early support hubs can crucially help mental health services for children meet existing, new and unmet demand that has built up during the pandemic, while helping to avoid a potential forbidding COVID-19 legacy of a new generation of young people with enduring mental health issues.”
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