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Government expands mental health services for children and young people

The government has announced plans to support the mental health of children and young people after the impact of the pandemic and lockdown.

The number of mental health support teams will increase, access to community mental health services will improve and more young people will be able to access eating disorder services.

Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “Over the last year great focus has rightly been placed on our physical health, but I am incredibly conscious of the impact the pandemic has had on people’s mental health and wellbeing.

“Children and young people have been particularly impacted by disruption to their routine, education and social lives and I am committed to doing all I can to ensure mental health support is there for those who need it.

“Our response to this global pandemic will not only treat the public health threat of coronavirus but ensure our clinicians have the resources to respond to the long-term impact on people’s mental health, to provide support to everyone in their hour of need,” he added.

NHS research suggests that one in six children and young people may now have a mental health problem, up from one in nine in 2017.

The government announced that:

- Almost 3 million children in England will be supported by mental health support teams in schools

- Around 22,500 more children and young people will be able to access community mental health services

- 2,000 more children and young people will be able to access eating disorder services

By April 2023, the number of mental health support teams in schools and colleges will grow from 59 to 400, supporting nearly 3 million children. Mental health support teams work in a variety of ways, including enabling children to text their local mental health support team, with a health professional responding within an hour during the school day offering them advice, or providing families with tips on how to spot that the children and young people are struggling with their mental health.

The teams also support school staff to provide a ‘whole school approach’ to mental health and wellbeing through training sessions for parents or workshops for teachers. The teams have been operating virtually during lockdown, providing young people with support.

Access to community mental health services will also be expanded, giving 22,500 more children and young people access to help and support by 2021 to 2022. This will include talking therapies and cognitive behavioural therapy and accelerates the commitment to expand services as part of the NHS Long Term Plan, which will see an additional 345,000 more children and young people access mental health services by 2024.

An additional 2,000 children and young people will be able to access eating disorder services for conditions like anorexia and bulimia in the community. This follows NHS England’s plans to expand rapid access to specialist NHS treatment for young people with eating disorders across England, aiming to contact patients within 48 hours and beginning treatment as soon as two weeks later.

The announcement comes from government to support children and young people who may be suffering from poor mental health as a result of, or exacerbated by, the pandemic.

Children and young people facing a mental health crisis will continue to get support through 24/7 crisis lines and will benefit from additional funding to support follow-up crisis treatment at home where necessary.

NHS Mental Health Director Claire Murdoch said: “The pandemic has turned our lives upside down and hit children and young people particularly hard.

“NHS mental health services have worked around the clock, proactively reaching out to and caring for children and young people despite challenging circumstances – and we stand steadfast in our commitment to continue to improve mental health care for each and every one of them.

“This funding announced as part of the Spending Review last November will now support NHS England’s work to increase the number of mental health support teams in schools and colleges to 400 by 2023, and growing community services to treat more children and young people than ever before,” she added.

Education staff will be supported to respond to the emotional and mental health pressures some children and young people may be feeling as a result of COVID-19 as they return to school by the Wellbeing for Education Return programme backed by £8 million, and free online psychological training modules on how to provide practical and emotional support to children and young people affected by emergencies or crisis situations.

This funding forms part of the £500 million for mental health announced at the 2021 to 2022 spending review.

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