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06/05/21 – Sleepwalking into Another Pandemic?

 From the Child Mental Health Charter Campaign by Helen Clark: Campaign Director 

With the State Opening of Parliament less than a week away and a new Queen’s Speech imminent, politicians are turning their attention to the ending of COVID-19 restrictions; full opening of the leisure industry and removal of curbs on foreign travel. But as discussion turns on the nature of ‘app’ that will be used to determine a person’s COVID-free status – or indeed what will be done for people who do not possess a ‘smart phone’ – a persistent and worrying narrative gathers apace. 

The UK Government has concentrated purely upon limiting the transmission of COVID-19 and mitigating devastation to human physical health, business and the economy. However, researchers, professionals and media outlets have continued to demonstrate that the damage to mental health – in particular the mental health of children – may be incalculable. 

According to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics, around one in five adults experienced depression in early 2021; more than double the level seen before the pandemic. 

Some of the largest increases in rates of depressive symptoms were seen in people who were living with a child. Prior to the onset of COVID-19, just 6% of households with at least one child reported such symptoms. The number now stands at 23% – a particularly worrying statistic because it represents children who were not surveyed by ONS themselves but who are under pressure because their guardians reported depressive symptoms and, according to other surveys, they are reporting increased levels of emotional, behavioural and attentional difficulties themselves. 

The charity The Centre for Mental Health predicts that 1.5 million children and adolescents will require new or additional mental health support as a direct consequence of this pandemic. If these predictions are accurate, then CAMHS, already under pressure before COVID-19 will simply be unable to cope at all. 

As the Child Mental Health Charter Campaign has consistently pointed out, mental illness for most children and adolescents does not end with childhood. It persists and worsens in adulthood, bringing a host of undesirable consequences in its wake. 

The Government’s recent attempt to head off disaster by committing an extra £500 million of extra spending to mental health services this year is better than nothing – but not much! 

Waiting time for specialists is already stretched to breaking point and the workforce has long been starved of investment. These are services that have been underfunded and neglected for years and the Centre for Mental Health has predicted that alongside the new demand from 1.5 million children and adolescents, a further 8.5 million adults will be in need of mental health services. 

The Government must now take the opportunity of its promised reform of the Mental Health Act to do something radical — put the needs of children at the heart of the forthcoming mental health legislation instead of leaving them to make do with pilot schemes and Ministerial ‘advice notes’. 

Investing in our children’s mental health NOW means investing in the future of our country. 

A failure to do so will mean that no Chancellor, either now or in the foreseeable future will be able to ‘balance the books.’