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Ten-year delay for children seeking mental health support

The delay between children and young people first showing signs of mental illness and receiving treatment is 10 years on average, a new report from the Centre for Mental Health shows.

The report also found that, despite one in 10 young people suffering from mental health problems, a quarter never received any treatment, and many complained that mental health services were confusing and inadequate.

It found that mental health problems are particularly severe among young adults, and that teenage girls in particular experienced factors including a deterioration in life satisfaction, school-related anxiety, sexual harassment and body image pressures.

Lorraine Khan, associate director for children and young people at Centre for Mental Health, said: “We need to take every opportunity to support families and schools to build firm foundations for children’s mental health. We need to raise awareness of the first signs of poor mental health and reinforce the importance of getting early help. And we need to offer effective and young people friendly help for every child of any age at the first signs of difficulty.

“Waiting for a child’s mental health to deteriorate until it hits crisis point causes untold distress and damage to their lives and carries a heavy social and economic cost. We have to take action now to offer high quality help quickly to children and young people everywhere.”

The report follows recent findings from the Children’s Commissioner which revealed that 28% of young people referred to child and adolescent mental health services were turned away.

It also found that young people with mental health problems have poorer life chances later on.

A third of young people not in education, training or employment have suffered from depression and nine out of 10 young people in custody, and between four and nine out of 10 homeless young people have, at least one mental health problem.

The report recommended schools begin helping to prevent mental health problems by adopting social and emotional learning and efforts to reduce bullying.

It also said more research and development was needed in programmes to reduce self-harm, eating disorders and bullying. There was also a call for greater analysis of the long-term effects of programmes to treat young people’s mental health problems, and greater research into mental health problems among BME young people.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said the government’s existing commitment to more mental health funding “will improve care in the community and schools to reduce waiting times and make sure young people get support before they reach a crisis point”.

However, the National Audit Office has warned that the government is likely to miss its targets on mental health care, and NHS Providers has said that the new funding is failing to reach mental health services.

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