One in 10 young people had a mental health problem in 2004 the
Office for National Statistics has revealed and, according to the
figures, the level of mental disorder amongst this group was the
same five years ago, writes Amy
Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services have long been
highlighted by campaigners as a Cinderella service and the study
shows the effect this is having on vulnerable young people.
Dinah Morley, acting director of mental health charity
YoungMinds, said that although the government had invested in child
and adolescent mental health services and the children’s
green paper pledges to deliver a 10 per cent increase in
CAMHS’s capacity from 2003-2006, much more funding is still
required. Many children and young people have to wait six months
before getting treatment.
“You can wait months to get the treatment you need and
your problems become entrenched or you disappear only to pop up
somewhere else [in the system],” she explains.
Amanda Batten, policy officer for children, at The National
Autistic Society, said that autistic children, one of the groups
covered by the study, had particular difficulties getting support
with many CAMHS’ admitting that they were unable to help them
due to there being a lack of professionals with the necessary
She explained that although autism was a development disability
and not a mental health disorder, people with the condition were
more likely to become mentally ill.
Recent investment in mental health includes the setting up of early
intervention teams, which aim to reach people who are at high risk
of developing a severe mental illness early on across the country.
Despite issues over their size and capacity, Paul Corry, director
of campaigns and communications at mental health charity Rethink,
argues that they are starting to make a difference for young
The study, which covered 5-16 year olds across England,
Scotland and Wales, found that the first professional many parents
turned to when they were concerned about their children were
teachers due to mental health problems arising at school. Morley
says that when teachers had access to counsellors and educational
psychologists this system may work but many teachers did not know
where to refer parents and all too often they are directed to an
equally unaware GP.
Corry agrees that teachers are not adequately supported to deal
with mental health problems. “Rethink, along with many other
charities, run support and training initiatives for teachers, but
they are only available in some areas. We would love to do more,
but the funding for them is limited,” he said.
The most shocking figure emerging from the study is the high
level of children and young people, around a fifth or more in each
category of mental disorder, who have tried to self-harm or kill
Morley said the numbers are unacceptable and argues that cases
would not be left to deteriorate to this stage if they involved
“It’s an absolute scandal that things are going on
like this and not enough money is provided because if it was a
physical disease like cancer there would be a public outcry,”
Time for the limelight?
The reasons behind the figures are as varied as the types of
mental health problems they represent but the study shows some
clear patterns. For example, children are more likely to have a
mental health disorder if their parents are on low incomes or have
Morley says that a low level of qualifications is often a causal
factor of low incomes and that pressure from advertisers, the media
and peers on children to have the latest clothes and gadgets can
cause stress if they can’t afford to buy them.
She adds that money shortages can also cause arguments within
families which effect children.
For autistic children and young people difficulties making
friends and bullying at school are key issues that can have a
negative effect on their mental health. The study illustrates this
with two fifths of autistic children covered in the study having no
friends at all. Communication problems are also an issue. Batten
says that despite the consequences, there is little support to help
young autistic people to get over these problems.
“Social skills training is something that parents really
want for their children but there is very, very poor
provision,” she explains.
Modern medicine is often accused of inappropriately trying to
solve all ills with drugs but the report suggests that such fears
in relation to children with mental health problems are misplaced.
The figures show that medication is largely confined to children
with hyperkinetic disorders, which include hyperactivity and the
inability to concentrate, rather than being given to children with
a range of problems.
With the current focus on childhood obesity and previously the
possible side effects of the MMR vaccination children’s
physical health is never far from the front pages. Many argue that
children’s mental health’s place in the limelight is
long overdue and hope that the new figures might start to achieve
Mental health of children and young people in Great Britain 2004