Children’s Mental Health: A Postcode Lottery

Written by Bryony Wilshaw

Children who suffer from low level mental health disorders are facing a postcode lottery when it comes to accessing help and getting treatment, research shows. A recent report from the Children’s Commissioner has found that over a third of areas across England have seen a decrease in spending on low level mental health services. These services are prevention and early intervention for treating issues such as anxiety, depression and eating disorders by using school nurses, counsellors and drop in centres.

Whilst the report shows a fall in spending on these services, mental illness amongst children is actually on the rise in the UK, with one in eight 5 to 19 year olds struggling with a mental disorder in 2017. The spending cuts have been described as a ‘postcode lottery’ for children suffering in areas spending less. In London the per child spend on early intervention mental health services were the highest at £17.88, whilst the East Midlands suffered with the lowest spend at just £5.32 per child. The reduction in spending on mental health services have been described as ‘worrying’ by Child Commissioner, Anne Longfield.

“The children I speak to who are suffering from conditions like anxiety and depression aren’t asking for intensive in-patient therapeutic treatment, they just want to be able to talk to a counsellor about their worries and to be offered advice on how to stop their problems turning into a crisis.”

The impact these spending cuts will have on children could be detrimental, a recent finding from the Children’s Commissioner described a case in which a child drank a bottle of bleach after trying and failing to receive help for her mental ill-health. More cases like this are to be expected in areas where the spending has been cut.

Campaigns such as #Tellofsted are trying to promote educating children on health and wellbeing from an early age, something which could prove to be proactive in preventing a mental health crisis in an age of spending cuts. The campaign was started by YoungMinds, a charity for children's mental health. Whilst they recognise that some schools do excellent work on wellbeing and mental health, they say it’s up to Ofsted to ensure it is recognised in their inspections as they can have huge influences in what schools prioritise and spend their budgets on.

Best selling author, Matt Haig, who writes children's books about mental health, believes it should be added to the school curriculum. Speaking to the Telegraph, Haig said, “It’s just as important as road safety, I think we need to get ahead of the game on this, it’s evolving so fast and it feels like everyone’s so behind in terms of technology and health.”

When will mental health be regarded as just as important as road safety? With children as young as nine suffering from suicidal thoughts I think it’s about time we started at the root.