When we think of mental health issues, we quite often immediately associate them with something that adults suffer from; however, I want to unlock the door to the hidden world of children with mental health issues and the struggles they and their families endure day in, day out.
Imagine being a child and simply dreading waking up the next day, to face yet another round of torture that only you can really feel, whether that be anxiety, anorexia, depression, suicidal thoughts, etc. – the list goes on. You don’t understand what is happening to you or why you feel this way or maybe you can’t even decipher the jumble of emotions you feel. You can’t tell your friends; they wouldn’t understand or you simply fear the stigma. What if they think I’m mad? Maybe I am mad? Your school and teachers aren’t any better. You may be punished for the way you behave due to the pure ignorance that your behaviour isn’t because you’re naughty; it’s a cry for help. Help that you won’t receive.
‘What?’ you must be thinking, surely if a child is suffering so badly, then the NHS will be able to provide them with the care they need, in exactly the same way they would if a child had a physical condition? Naively, I once thought the same as you, until I uncovered a section of society I refer to as the ‘forgotten children’. These children fly under the radar because they are not ‘sick’ enough to access the mental health support they need; they aren’t considered to be at a high enough risk of killing themselves or causing harm to the public. Simple, let’s sweep them under the carpet. Tragically, there are thousands of ‘forgotten children’ across the UK due to the fact that the NHS-run CAMHS (Children and Adolescent Mental Health Service) is stretched to its absolute limits. This is due to the fact that the service isn’t given the amount of funding it needs to meet the huge demand, causing a backlog of referrals or, sadly, blatant refusals for support. These children and their families are left with no one to turn to, their GP may prescribe them medication in extreme circumstances but quite often they are just left to suffer in silence, slowly becoming sicker and sicker.
However, if you are an adult experiencing mild to moderate mental health difficulties you, or your GP, can refer yourself to NHS talking therapies where, at some point, you will receive some sort of mental health support such as CBT or counselling. I am not saying adult mental health services are perfect, they of course also have their own faults, but what I can’t understand is why children are treated as second class citizens.
If this was the situation before the coronavirus pandemic, how bad will children’s mental health be after the pandemic? I fear that, in the wake of the pandemic, the thinly spread CAMHS will simply reach a breaking point and snap, the devastation it will leave in its wake hitting the ‘forgotten children’ the hardest, and potentially costing lives.
When I emailed my local MP expressing my concerns, I learnt from her that a new service for young people with mild to moderate mental health issues (called Mental Health Support Teams) are gradually being rolled out across the country. Emphasis on the word gradually. In her email, she stated that the Mental Health Support Teams will be rolled out to 20–25% of England by 2023/2024! Truly appalling.
Mental health support for young people should not have to be a postcode lottery! I also personally know a young person who has received support from the Mental Health Support Teams and the support consisted of only six CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) sessions, which didn’t meet their needs due to the fact the young person is emotionally not at the developmental stage to take on board this type of therapy. CBT can be brilliant but is better suited for older children/more emotionally mature children. Therefore, even the ‘lucky’ children who are under mental health support teams aren’t likely to receive the care they desperately deserve.
Therefore, I have created a petition calling on the UK government, as a matter of emergency, to provide adequate mental health support service for all children with mild to moderate mental health conditions. I would also like the nationwide service to include different types of therapies such as play therapy, art therapy, as well as CBT to ensure the therapy on offer suits every child’s needs.
Will you join me in being a voice for the ‘forgotten children’ and potentially help save lives?
Lydia Friend is a mental health advocate.