Are the Tories turning back the clock on young people’s mental health?

Are the Tories turning back the clock on young people’s mental health?

The infrastructure that was painstakingly built to support young people is being continually dismantled.

sadmanThe infrastructure that was painstakingly built to support young people is being continually dismantled

Recent headlines say it all. ‘Mentally ill teenager held in police cell’,Nurses warn of mental health services strain’, ‘Young mental health services cannot cope‘.

Young people’s mental health services across the UK are in dire straits.

A recent report by the Royal College of Nursing showed that government spending cuts have led to the loss of more than 3,300 mental health posts over the last four years and 1,500 fewer beds than in 2010.

A report by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) revealed worrying increases in the number of young people being treated in adult psychiatric wards.

There is also the case of the mentally ill teenage girl who was kept in police cells for two days because there wasn’t a bed for her and when a bed was found it was on an adult ward.

While I fundamentally oppose the majority of the government’s reforms to the NHS, I welcome pledges to extend and ensure more access to The Improving Access to Psychological Therapies(IAPT) programme, commitment to parity of esteem between physical and mental health and changes to the Mental Health Act to ensure mentally ill teenagers are never held in police cells.

However, I do wonder if all of this could have been prevented if previous flagship Labour policies, concentrated on securing children and young people’s emotional wellbeing, had not been surreptitiously axed or had their funding radically reduced.

While reviewing literature on the state of young people’s wellbeing I was shocked to find that in one 2007 report no less than eight initiatives introduced by the previous Labour government are now defunct or poorly funded.

This includes Sure Start, Every Child Matters Programme, The Child Trust Fund, Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA), On Track, Youth Inclusion and Support Panels, The Children’s Fund, and the Social Exclusion Task Force.

Coupled with dramatic cuts to local authorities, who are left with little choice but to cut youth services to prop up statutory services, and commission fewer third sector organisations to deliver extra curricular activities for young people, it is little wonder that children’s and young people’s mental health is suffering.

The infrastructure that was painstakingly built to ensure their resilience is being continually dismantled.

This is a desperate call to the next government for strong leadership and commitment to young people’s mental health. Fund CAMHS services properly, ring-fencing money where possible.

Adopt a long term vision about how to secure children’s and young people’s wellbeing, bringing back preventative strategies and integrated support to sustain a child from early age to adulthood.

Crucially we need a commitment by all parties saying that, regardless of the outcome in May, the hard work of campaigning organisations to get young people’s mental health on the agenda will not be lost and young people’s mental health will be firmly at the heart of the next government.

After all, we’re all relying on the next generation.

Gemma McKenna leads on policy and research for the young person’s charity Fixers. Follow her on Twitter

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