The mental health crisis for children and young people exposed by the pandemic risks becoming entrenched long after lockdowns are history unless it is addressed urgently by government, MPs have warned.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group on a Fit and Healthy Childhood states that while the government has talked a lot about a post-pandemic need to ‘level-up’, minsters need to subject the mental health provision and services offered to children and young people to some serious scrutiny.
APPG Chair, Steve McCabe MP, said: “Far from ‘levelling up’, the pandemic has exposed the UK as a patchwork of mental health disparity, with a fluctuating standard of provision, courtesy of factors ranging from individual family circumstance and socioeconomic status to deep-rooted and stubborn funding failings; both at service and research levels – and even dependent upon which UK country you happen to live in!”
“What the best available research shows, is that mental illness is common in even our youngest children; that one child in every seven in primary school class will have a diagnosable mental illness and that a shocking 75% of mental illnesses begin before the age of eighteen. According to the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, the greatest challenge facing children in 20 years time will be mental health problems.”
“Unless the government uses all the information thrown up by the pandemic about the state of children and young people’s mental health and then discerns, learns and acts – we will be walking, ‘eyes wide-shut’ into the type of long-lasting communal health disaster that will not be capable of a fix via ‘two ‘jabs in the arm,’ a mask and a booster,” said the report, published as the vaccine roll-out fuels hopes for an end to the COVID pandemic.
Mr McCabe went on to highlight that it is the most vulnerable in our society are the ones who will be carrying the heaviest burden post-pandemic. While the increase in mental health problems in the UK was already an alarming trend before COVID struck, it is now an emergency.
The government, the APPG states, has a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity to help create a resilient generation, able to cope with the uncertainties of the future. However, without action, many children could be plagued by a lifetime of depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses.
Investment is vital to get the response right to protect children’s futures, the report warns.
“It is up to us to give the COVID generation a voice,” added Mr McCabe.
The report makes a number of recommendations including:
- A radical expansion of the research base into what interventions work best for whom and why? What are the barriers to effective care?
- Improved access of regularly collected and survey data, including the collection of high-quality data about all children and young people including key demographics.
- A cross-national strategy, prioritising the best initiatives of a devolved UK.
- New, substantial funding from government, ring-fenced for children and young people’s mental health.
- Effective economic support for disadvantaged families to include a Strategic
- Review of benefit systems and school meal provision.
- Root and branch revision of CAMHS.
- Universal support for all children to include public health and education services working together and adopting a ‘whole school ethos’ in the promotion of mental health.
A shift in national strategy towards positive policies to support mental wellness and enhance psychological wellbeing and resilience throughout the life course.
Lead Author Helen Clark said that now was the time to ensure that mental health is understood to be integral to a thriving and productive society: “This mental health crisis is a ticking time bomb and yet the UK has some of the best scientists, academics, and health, education and childcare experts in the world today!”
“Working with them, our government could avert what is gathering momentum in front of us and really ‘build back better’ by creating mental health services for children and young people for the benefit of a UK that is the sum of its parts – not just part of the whole,” she concluded.