Making children’s mental health a priority

A report just published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies has shed light on the economic cost of poor provision for childhood mental health services.

With an estimated 1.8 million households affected by childhood mental health problems, this is an issue that can no longer be ignored. Aside from the obvious emotional and social costs of struggling with psychological problems, this study shows that investing in our children’s mental health is an economically wise decision as well as a morally sound one.

Children who struggle with mental health problems are likely to earn less money as adults and are more likely to experience unemployment. This equates to an average loss of £300,000 in income over their lifetimes. Countrywide, over the past 40 years that has cost the economy £550bn in lost earnings and tax revenue. The impact is long-lasting too: the gap in earnings between those who have and have not experienced childhood psychological problems is 20 per cent at age 23; this rises to 24 per centat 33 and by 50 the gap is almost a third. Giving better, earlier support to children suffering from mental health disorders would help reduce this gap.

The British Medical Association estimates that at any point in time up to 45,000 young people under the age of 16 are experiencing a severe mental health disorder, and approximately 1.1 million children under the age of 18 would benefit from specialist mental health services.

Shadow public health minister Luciana Berger has accused the coalition of ‘breaking its promise on mental health’. And she is right: since 2010, spending on children’s mental health services has dropped by 6.4 per cent in real terms since 2010 – that is £50m. The system is failing young people. Some are even detained in police cells as they await treatment. Between 2012-13, 8,000 people were kept in prison as it was deemed to be the only ‘safe place’, despite the legislation specifying that it should only be used in ‘exceptional circumstances’. Other patients are sent somewhere hundreds of miles from home, because of drastic bed shortages – over 1,500 beds have been lost under the coalition government. This is not good enough and, as this study proves, this is failing children and failing the economy too.

Ed Miliband has personally committed to making mental health a priority for the next government. He has pledged to invest an extra £2.5bn per year in the National Health Service, increase the proportion of the mental health budget spent on children and recruit 20,000 more nurses – including mental health nurses. This commitment is incredibly important and will help improve a mental health service that is in drastic need of support. Mental health is often considered the ‘Cinderella service of the NHS’ but children’s mental health is often labelled the ‘Cinderella of the Cinderella Service’. The chronic underfunding cannot continue. If we do not focus resources on entry intervention not only will the patient suffer, but the economy too.

Today, the Labour Campaign for Mental Health launched our latest campaign, which targets parliamentary candidates to commit to making mental health a priority. These are not policy commitments per se, but tangible actions in their constituencies that will keep mental health high on their agendas.

You can keep up to date with our campaign by following us on twitter: @Labour_MH, or email labourmentalhealth@gmail.com for further information

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Rose Gray is communications officer for Labour Campaign for Mental Health. She tweets @_rosegray

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