HELEN BURTON: Vulnerable youngsters deserve the best of care

Helen Burton SUS-160113-100959001
Helen Burton SUS-160113-100959001

This week is mental health awareness week. We all need to look after our mental health and ask for help when we need it.

The expectation in this country is that when we are ill, physically or mentally, help will be there, but from my experience there is massive underfunding in mental health services in the NHS and if you are mentally ill you might have a battle on your hands, right at a time when you are least able to cope with it. There are various services offered to adults which you can self-refer to or access through your GP so there is help, it just might take some time to get it and it is this delay that can be so dangerous. The Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) is particularly struggling with a caseload too big for it to manage and this issue is not being taken seriously by government.

Only a few days ago the government sacked Natasha Devon, children’s mental health champion. In an article in the Guardian she has said that although she was appointed by the government, her emails and phone calls to ministers to engage with them went unanswered. Her ideas for improving children’s mental health were not listened to and in the end she resorted to publicly humiliating minister for social care Alistair Burt by ‘having a massive go at him’ at a conference in front of 300 delegates. Good for her, she obviously wasn’t getting anywhere through more conventional methods. It’s a shame that the government didn’t use the opportunity to work with Devon on tackling the issues that cause mental health problems in children and young people, but lack of funding for CAMHS is even more shameful. Frontline staff (as ever) are great but locally and nationally waiting lists are horrendous.

I have spent many years working in children’s social care and helping children get access to mental health services has always been difficult, but lately it’s far worse. When children, adolescents and their families reach a crisis point and ask for help it is always urgent. Getting an appointment in a few months time is no help at all and leaves children at risk.There needs to be a major rethink by government about how to support children and young people. We need to acknowledge the causes of the children’s mental health crisis. Issues such as poverty, academic pressure, and social media all play a part but it is the underfunding of CAMHS that leaves me so furious. Children and young people are innately vulnerable and deserve the best of care. They are our society’s future and we ignore their mental health needs at our own peril. During mental health awareness week I hope the government will start to listen to campaigners such as Devon. In 2012 an amendment was made to the Health and Social Care Bill which clarified that mental health should be treated on an equal footing with physical health. Let’s make sure it is.