Putting coun­sel­lors in ev­ery sec­ondary would save mil­lions in health costs

The Herald - - FRONT PAGE -

THE Scot­tish As­so­ci­a­tion For Men­tal Health is high­light­ing the clear chal­lenge we are fac­ing when it comes to the is­sue of men­tal health, es­pe­cially as it im­pacts on chil­dren and young peo­ple.

Re­search in­di­cates 10 per cent of chil­dren and young peo­ple aged be­tween five and 16 have a clin­i­cally di­ag­nos­able men­tal health prob­lem. It equates to about three in ev­ery class­room, while 20 per cent of ado­les­cents may ex­pe­ri­ence a men­tal health prob­lem in any given year.

How­ever, the sup­ply of men­tal health ser­vices has gen­er­ally failed to keep pace with this ris­ing de­mand. Child and Ado­les­cent Men­tal Health Ser­vices (CAMHS) are over­stretched and un­der­re­sourced. The lat­est NHS wait­ing time fig­ures high­light the health ser­vice failed to meet the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment’s 18-week wait­ing time tar­get for ac­cess to CAMHS treat­ment.

As a coali­tion we are de­lighted the Gov­ern­ment has com­mit­ted an ad­di­tional £150 mil­lion in di­rect in­vest­ment in men­tal health over five years – to be partly used to re­duce child and ado­les­cent men­tal health wait­ing times.

How­ever, it should be noted less than 0.5 per cent of NHS Scot­land ex­pen­di­ture and less than six per cent of over­all men­tal health ex­pen­di­ture is spent on child and ado­les­cent men­tal health.

In this con­text we need a men­tal health bud­get that stands up to that across the bor­der, which would amount to an ad­di­tional £100m ev­ery year. Pre­ven­ta­tive mea­sures and early in­ter­ven­tion play an ab­so­lutely cru­cial role.

One key as­pect of this is the in­tro­duc­tion of school-based coun­selling ser­vices, pro­vid­ing sup­port to trou­bled and/or dis­tressed chil­dren and young peo­ple, in­clud­ing those with men­tal health dif­fi­cul­ties.

Un­like Scot­land, coun­selling ser­vices are guar­an­teed in all sec­ondary schools in North­ern Ire­land and Wales. In Wales, the vast ma­jor­ity of chil­dren and young peo­ple who re­ceived coun­selling (88 per cent) did not re­quire any form of on­ward re­fer­ral once coun­selling ses­sions had been com­pleted.

In­vest­ing a frac­tion of the men­tal health bud­get on school­based coun­selling helps keep chil­dren in school and avoid un­nec­es­sary and of­ten stig­ma­tis­ing men­tal health di­ag­noses, as well as re­duc­ing the bur­den on CAMHS. The cost of five ses­sions of coun­selling is equiv­a­lent to just one con­tact with CAMHS.

The cost to in­tro­duce a coun­sel­lor into ev­ery sec­ondary school in Scot­land is es­ti­mated to be around £9m, a drop in the ocean com­pared with the costs of CAMHS treat­ment.

One of the key ac­tions of the Gov­ern­ment is to in­tro­duce im­proved men­tal health sup­port for those who sup­port chil­dren and young peo­ple in ed­u­ca­tional set­tings. How­ever, only a frac­tion of schools across Scot­land have teach­ers who have un­der­gone for­mal train­ing. We need to train ev­ery teacher, giv­ing them the tools that al­low them to iden­tify and sup­port young peo­ple in dif­fi­culty.

The Gov­ern­ment has made it its am­bi­tion to make Scot­land the “best place for chil­dren to grow up in”. It is time for it to rise to the chal­lenge when it comes to the is­sue of child men­tal health, and that means a ma­jor in­vest­ment in vi­tal ser­vices.

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