A Scottish Parliament Committee has warned that more needs to be done to ensure that children and young people who need help with their mental health can access support at the earliest opportunity.
A report published by the Public Petitions Committee has said that despite efforts to improve the provision of early intervention mental health services, more needs to be done to ensure that young people feeling low or anxious, or both, can access advice and support. The findings of the Mental Health Support for Young People in Scotland – PPC Final Report say levels of support for young people’s mental health paint a ‘troubling picture’.
Children’s Health Scotland (CHS), a leading children’s health charity, says nobody can be in any doubt that ‘so much more’ needs to be done to support young people struggling with their mental health.
CHS Chief Executive, Helen Forrest has said that she is “saddened but perhaps not surprised” by the committee’s conclusions and “that more needs to be done to ensure that children and young people who need help with their mental health can access this support quickly and effectively.”
MSPs found a lack of support early on when young people first started to struggle with their mental health left them feeling ‘cast aside’. Some who gave evidence during the committee’s inquiry said feelings of distress then escalated to self-harm and even attempts at suicide.
Head of Children’s Health and Wellbeing Services with CHS Dr Laura Smith says insights from the self-management service that CHS runs for young people and children mean they are “acutely aware” of gaps in provision.
“This view is supported by the health professionals we work with who have told us that there is a lack of services for children and young people who are struggling but do not meet Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services criteria,” she says.
“We support children and young people with long-term health conditions and the vast majority report concerns or struggles with their mental health. Many also say that they do not know how or where to find help or have not been able to access support.
“Parents and carers often get in touch and tell us that their child isn’t coping and they don’t know what to do.”
CHS has just launched a new digital self-management service – SMS:Connect – an expansion of the services it already provides to support children and young people’s mental health.
“But without doubt,” Dr Smith adds, “so much more needs to be done.”
Gwen Garner, Vice Chair of Children’s Health Scotland and Secretary of the European Association for Children in Hospital (EACH) added: “Children and young people’s physical and mental health should always be considered to be of equal importance and there should therefore be appropriate services provided. It is essential that such services adhere to Article 8 of the EACH Charter which states: ‘Children shall be cared for by staff whose training and skills enable them to respond to the physical, emotional and developmental needs of children and families.’ In the adolescent age group such services should be adapted to the developmental needs of young people. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child’s (UNCRC) definition of the child is up to the age of 18.”