The charity YoungMinds has called on the Government to spare children’s mental health services from forthcoming budget cuts.
They argue that it is right to support children who suffer from mental health issues, and also point out, quite correctly, that untreated childhood issues will only become worse in adulthood. They also believe that teachers and health professionals, and most importantly parents, should be better prepared to assist young people.
But how prevalent are mental health diagnoses amongst young people?
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reports that one in ten children and young people aged between 5 and 16 years of age has a clinically diagnosed mental disorder: The figure is even higher amongst children from lone parent families and those at the lower end of the socio-economic scale.
And the stigma of a mental health issue can be made far worse for young people than adults. They are often rejected by peers, which can lead to isolation, strong feelings of shame and a sense of hopelessness. These feelings can increase the chances of self-harm and suicide in young people.
‘see me’, the Scottish anti stigma campaign found that 40% of children would not want anyone to know if they had a mental health problem. The survey also showed that one in five young people say they would find it hard to talk to another young person with mental health problems
The quantities of antidepressants prescribed by the NHS have almost doubled overall in the last decade, and figures released under the Freedom of Information Act last year showed that more than 113,000 prescriptions for antidepressants were issued to under-16s in 2007 alone.
It should be noted that doctors are rightly reluctant to prescribe such drugs to young people. There are clear Nice (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) guidelines. Treatment should range from counselling sessions, to more prolonged periods of treatments such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and other counselling and, finally, antidepressants.
Diagnosing mental illness in young people is notoriously difficult. Hormonal changes can mean that mood swings are common in young people, and they are generally not good at sharing feelings and problems with adults. They don’t end to refer themselves to health services in the way that adults might.
This all indicates that there may be many cases of untreated depression, which is a fear of many mental health professionals.
The mental health charity Sane believes that the typical onset of depression is now coming earlier in life. They report that the numbers of teenagers calling for help suggests the rate of depression in the under-14s has doubled in the last four years, and in the 15-24 age group it has increased by one third.
The stresses teenagers have to deal with have generally increased. They often have to deal with breakdown in family life added to increased academic expectations, peer pressure and all of the stresses associated with growing up in the modern world.
I’m sure we all remember how difficult teenage life can be. But it can be made even worse if the support is not there for those who are unfortunate enough have mental health issues.
Very simply, more money needs to be invested in mental health services for young people. They deserve the support.