Monday, July 24, 2006

Young people and mental health

A leaked government document from the Department of Health to senior NHS officials is showing that thousands of young people with mental health problems are being failed. They include:

No emergency (24/7) help for young people going through a crisis for one-quarter of the country.

Children with learning disabilities are also being denied access to support.

And 16-17 year-olds are not getting appropriate care. Many end up in an adult psychiatric ward.

Cumbria, Lancashire, West Yorkshire and Cornwall are the worst areas according to the report and especially in rural areas.

According to the document’s author, Richard Gleave (D of H senior performance management official) states, “performance is variable”. While bizarrely, Rosie Winterton (Health minister) said that there was “no evidence” that mental health services were being badly affected by the £512 million NHS deficit.

The charity Young Minds says that there are around one million children who experience mental health problems in Britain. Yet mental health trusts are facing cutbacks.

Another recent report from the BMA has warned that children, especially from poorer backgrounds, children in care, asylum-seeker children, children witnessing domestic violence are likely to develop mental health problems but access to overstretched services will be impossible. They estimate that 1% of children and 3% of teenagers experience depression in any one year.

Self-harm is on the increase with 11.2% of girls and 3.2% boys.

The BMA has urged the government to address problems with funding. Their recommendations include:

Implement measures to cut child deprivation.

New innovative and flexible services designed for the young

Media to stop using derogatory terms for mental illness

Boast mental health professional numbers

In the meantime, the European Medicines Agency have said it is safe to prescribe Prozac to kids as young as 8 even though there have been concerns about doing this. Kids blitzed on medication but hey, it is the cheap option and the drugs industry makes a massive profit!!

My interest with this subject goes way back to when I was prescribed the “evil” chemical cosh, Amitriptyline when I was 8-years old plus sleeping tablets as well (I was on the same “evil” drug when I was 18 but had discovered mixing it with booze was a great way of being smashed out your skull … not advisable though). That part of my childhood is hazy to say the least. I also saw a shrink (very good man) but only once and the rest of the time they relied on medication. And good services coupled with enlightened attitudes towards mental distress in children weren’t around in the sad old bad 1970s.

There may be a significant improvement but again resources are limited and over stretched but what I also find lacking is child advocacy services. When I worked for a health authority in the mid-1990s as a “User Involvement Worker” (spectacular title but sod all power… certainly wasn’t “all power to the mental health user” but that is another sad story ….) some of us pushed for advocacy services for kids but nobody in the health authority or council were interested so it became a non-starter.

I used to receive countless letters from distressed teenagers when I worked for a mental health survivor’s organisation. Many of them felt isolated, alienated, scared and powerless. Some were self-harming, some had eating distresses, some were on medication, some were in hospital, some felt suicidal and some just felt misunderstood. All had nobody they could talk to who would listen and that included their parents. I could relate to these teenagers especially the feeling of powerlessness and isolation. But where could they go? Who could they talk to? Many as well were stuck in rural areas.

The demands placed on the government regarding more funding, better specialised and adequate services for children and teenagers are all well and good but to me the most important demand is that children and teenagers are given a voice and that their needs are heard. It sure would have helped me as a kid and as a teenager.