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13 January 2017updated 06 Aug 2021 2:11pm

Mental health difficulties start young – so why don’t we give primary schools more help?

MPs are hearing from young people forced to leave home for treatment and support. 

By Angela Rayner

Half of those people who experience mental health difficulties do so before the age of 14.

The problems begin early – so early interventions are essential.

Both the Children’s Society and the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy say that access to good quality counselling in schools and colleges can play an “instrumental role” in promoting positive mental health and well-being.

Ofsted have found that where personal, social and health education (PSHE) is not delivered to a high standard, pupils have gaps in both their knowledge and ability to deal with “serious safeguarding areas” such as mental health.

According to data published by Young Minds in December, half of England’s Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) are not using the money that has been given to them on mental health care for young people. Some or all of their share of the £1.4bn allocated to improve NHS care of troubled young people is being used for other purposes.

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The cuts to child and adolescent mental health services has been systematic and deliberate. Funding has fallen by almost £50m between 2009/10 and 2012/13. 

And most MPs, like me, are dealing with cases where young people with mental health difficulties are being sent far away from home for treatment and support. In many cases, they are being sent hundreds of miles away from their families and friends – obviously not the best approach to enabling mental well-being.

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So these are the issues that confront me, both as shadow secretary of state for education and as patron of the Labour Mental Health campaign and a passionate advocate for parity of treatment between mental and physical health.

And what has been Theresa May’s response?

More warm words.

Theresa May says she will “transform mental health support” in Britain. David Cameron pledged a similar “revolution in mental health treatment”.

We have heard it all before.

She now says the government will invest £15m on community-based care such as crisis cafes and community clinics. 

That won’t go very far, when we see every day how social care is already in a deep crisis.

Mental health is a case study in Tory failure. 

Repeatedly, the Tories make speeches saying they will give mental health parity with physical health. 

But their record is dismal: spending on mental health fell by £600m in the last parliament, money intended for children’s mental health goes to other priorities, and there are 6,000 fewer mental health nurses than when the Tories came to power.

So we could do with some action from the Prime Minister. And it’s not difficult.

First, the government should commit to ring-fencing mental health funding to stop CCGs using that money for other things. 

They should introduce statutory high-quality PSHE in all schools.

They should ensure that all schools and colleges have access to good quality counselling to promote positive mental health and well-being. 

They should extend mental health first aid training to not just secondary schools, but primaries, given that 50 per cent of mental health problems start before the age of 14.

And they should bring forward the £700m of social care funding allocated – and spend it now. 

They won’t do any of these simple things, of course. Which tells you all you need to know about the PM’s commitment to improving mental health support for our children.