This Children’s Mental Health Week we need to come together and invest more in the future of our young people - Thoughts from the Centre | Deloitte UK

By Liz Hampson, Partner, LSHC Strategy and Analytics and Emily May, Assistant Manager, Centre for Health Solutions

Deloitte-uk-children-mental-health-week

There is a wide body of research evidence that illustrates starkly the rise in children’s mental health problems, exacerbated by COVID-19, economic down-turn and uptake of social media. As a result NHS and other support services are overwhelmed by demand, resulting in long wait times and children not receiving the support they need. Last week (6-12 February) was Children’s Mental Health Week which is organised by the charity Place2Be, Deloitte’s London and Birmingham office charity partner until 2025. Its aim is to shine a spotlight on the importance of children and young people’s mental health, with the theme this year being ‘Let’s Connect’, emphasising the importance of making healthy, rewarding and meaningful connections.1 This week’s blog explores the challenges facing children and young people’s mental health support services in the UK and discusses how the situation can be improved.

What’s the current situation?

Children and young people’s mental health across the UK is worsening. One in six children and young people had a probable mental health problem in 2021 – an increase from one in nine in 2017. Additionally, one in four older teenagers in England have mental health problems.3 This means more and more children need support, but, alarmingly, 75 per cent of children and young people who experience mental health problems aren’t getting the help they need.4

The wait times for children are also too long with one in five waiting more than 12 weeks for a follow-up appointment with mental health services between April 2020 and March 2021.5 Long waits such as these are worrying as conditions can deteriorate for children while they wait for treatment. This leads to more acute cases and pressure on the NHS where they don’t have capacity to meet the demand because the allocation of budget to children’s mental health is low, making up just 6 per cent of mental health bill spending.6 There is an urgent need to increase the resources available and how and where they are deployed on children and young people’s mental health services.

How did we get here?

Sadly there are many reasons or contributing factors, but three major themes emerge:

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic

The pandemic had a de-stabilising effect on many children. At the outset, schools were closed, expected health care appointments did not take place, and children’s mental health deteriorated. Specifically, pandemic restrictions including school closures aggravated known triggers for poor mental health, through reduced social interaction, isolation and academic stress.7 By the time services began to be restored, waiting lists for children’s mental health conditions had ballooned beyond those experienced prior to the pandemic, leaving the NHS unable to keep up with the increased demand. While the extra funding boosts during the pandemic are welcome, the size of the challenge demands further, sustainable support and investment. Otherwise, the impacts of the pandemic will be compounded and felt for a long time to come.

The negative side effect of the rise of social media

Over half of 5–15 year olds and almost 90 per cent of 12–15-year-olds use social media. This is unsurprising given it allows young people to foster relationships, keep up with the latest trends and share interests. However, social media has created a greater space for cyberbullying and added complications for developing meaningful relationships.8 Children and young people who are currently experiencing a mental health problem are more than three times more likely to have been bullied online in the last year.9 Additionally, peer comparisons and comparing everyone else’s ‘highlight reel’ to their ‘everyday lives’ can lead to low self-esteem. A review by the Government’s Science and Technology committee found that most teenagers said that social media improved their relationships with their friends. However, the same report also found that young people with a mental health disorder were more likely to use social media, and more likely to be on social media for longer.10 One way of helping to ensure social media plays a healthy role in children’s lives is Place2B’s Parenting Smart website providing healthy social use media advice for parents of young children.11 

The declining economy

The current cost-of-living crisis in the UK is increasing poverty levels with the pressure on families  affecting children's mental health and amplifying inequalities.12 Money worries are affecting the mental health of children as young as 11 with two per cent of 11 year olds saying money worries had made them feel angry, unhappy, negative, anxious or stressed in the past three months, and four in 10 said they had struggled to cope with money worries according to a longitudinal study by Young Minds13.  Despite this increase in concern, many are unlikely to meet the threshold for support from the NHS, meaning having a place to turn to and opportunities to connect when things get hard for them even more important.

What can we do?

A generation of children and young people are at risk of not getting the mental health care they need. In the last spending review, £79 million was set aside for 2021-22 to support the NHS to care for children and young people with mental health problems, as well as an additional £40 million announced in June and £17 million for mental health initiatives in schools.14,15 Additionally, £150 million was announce in January 2023 to build new facilities to support mental health urgent and emergency care services.16 These short-term emergency cash injections provided in the past two years while much needed, need to evolve into more sustainable longer-term funding settlements, with a focus on early-intervention support rather than emergency care.

Identifying children and young people with poor mental health and providing appropriate support and treatment as early as possible is essential as half of all mental health conditions start by the age of 14.17 Appropriate and timely care can drastically reduce the risk that such conditions continue into adulthood. Taking a population health approach to identify the social factors affecting children and young people’s mental health, such as economic background and issues such as unstable home environments and targeting interventions appropriately should be seen as a high priority. From 2022 – 2025 Deloitte London and Deloitte Birmingham are partnering with Place2Be - the children and young people’s mental health charity to support the delivery and expansion of early intervention mental health services for children and their families. Last week we got together to support Children’s Mental Health Week and its theme, Let’s Connect, entering into a number of initiatives to raise awareness and funds to provide the much needed support services. But this support extends well beyond the week so if you are a Deloitte employee and interested in volunteering for Place2Be, check out the Deloitte volunteer hub for upcoming opportunities.

Need parenting support with your child?

If you find yourself in a difficult situation supporting your child’s mental health, you might like to visit Place2Be’s site Parenting Smart site which offers practical advice and guidance for parents of young children. The site has more than 40 topics, addressing everything from how to manage your child’s anxiety to boosting their emotional resilience in difficult times.

 

Deloitte-uk-elizabeth-hampson

Elizabeth Hampson, Partner, Monitor Deloitte

Liz is a Partner focused on life sciences and healthcare strategy and analytics. She leads projects that accelerate patient access to innovation, which includes health policy advisory and strategy projects with central government, industry, charities and payers in a range of countries. She is also a mental health champion.

Email | LinkedIn

 

LSHC blog 13 Jan author 1

Emily May, Assistant Manager, UK Centre for Health Solutions

Emily is an assistant manager in the Centre for Health Solutions where she applies her background in both scientific research and pharmaceutical analytics to produce supported insights for the Life Sciences and Healthcare practice. Emily leads the research and publication of the life sciences insights, performing thorough analysis to find solutions for the challenges impacting the industry and generating predictions for the future. Prior to joining the centre, Emily worked as an Analytical Scientist conducting physical chemistry analysis on early stage drug compounds and previously lived in Antwerp, Belgium where she researched and developed water-based adhesive films.

Email | LinkedIn

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Children’s mental health week | Place2Be

2 Rate of mental disorders amongst children | NHS Digital

3 Prevalence of children and young people experiencing mental health difficulties | Place2Be 

4 Children and young people | Mental Health Foundation 

5 Children face ‘agonising’ waits for mental health care | BBC News

6 Future in mind | Department of Health 

7 Mental health of children and young people during pandemic | The BMJ 

8 Social media and mental health: the good, the bad and the ugly | Action For Children

9 Social media cyberbullying inquiry | Young Minds 

10 Impact of social media and screen-use on young people’s health | HoC SaTC

11 Safe social media for primary aged children | Place2Be 

12 ADCS comment: children's mental health thematic report | ADCS

13 Economic crisis impact on mental health | Children & Young People Now

14 NHS England » Funding boost for young people’s mental health services

15 Generation of children and young people risk not getting the mental health care they need | NHS Confederation

16 Mental health services boosted by £150 million government funding | Gov.uk 

17 Future in mind | Department of Health 

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