If mental health is the Cinderella service of the NHS, then child and adolescent mental health services (Camhs) is the Cinderella service of the Cinderella service. It’s a cliche that bears repeating, because the reality of children’s mental health services in this country still falls woefully short of the vision set by the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives during the coalition government.
One in 10 children suffers from depression, anxiety or another diagnosable mental health problem, and 75% of mental illness starts before the age of 18. Intervening early with effective, evidence-based support can not only stop a child’s condition deteriorating to crisis point, but also have a transformative effect on long-term recovery and life prospects in adulthood.
When mental ill health costs the economy an estimated £105bn every year, the economic as well as the moral case for prioritising children’s mental health is unanswerable. But when I became minister, I was horrified by what I witnessed.
For too many people, help is not available when they need it. Nearly a quarter of young people referred to specialist Camhs services are turned away, often because they fail to meet outrageous eligibility thresholds. The anorexic teenager is denied treatment until she becomes dangerously thin. The boy with OCD is told there is no specialist support until he has experienced repeated suicidal thoughts. And those who do get treatment are often faced with excruciating waiting times, which can vary dramatically across the country.
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