In his 2015 Budget speech, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced an extra £1.25 billion investment over five years for improvements in mental health support for children, for women during and after pregnancy, for people who are out of work or at risk of losing their jobs, and for service personnel and veterans.
This is welcome news for services that have faced numerous cuts and budget freezes and which are currently meeting only a fraction of the need for support. It recognises the particular importance of children’s mental health – and that of their parents – and the lifelong shadow that poor mental health can cast over a child’s future.
Broken down across the country over five years, it has already been noted that the funding announced today is equivalent to just over £1 million per clinical commissioning group (CCG) area each year. Whether this will be sufficient to meet the levels of need that exist is a matter for debate.
What is harder to contest is the importance of investing in the mental health of children and their parents, and the benefits of doing so. Recently published evidence points to the yawning gaps between levels of need and levels of current provision, and equally to the need for radical changes to the way services are designed and work.
The Government’s taskforce report on children’s mental health, Future in Mind, set out a wide range of changes that would be needed to offer support that children and young people would find helpful, accessible and engaging. And our report, Investing in children’s mental health, showed the scale of social and economic benefits that can arise from a range of effective interventions for depression, anxiety and conduct disorder as well as school-based anti-bullying programmes and social and emotional learning.
Recent reports on the mental health of women during pregnancy and in the year after giving birth, meanwhile, have shown the costs of failing to offer the right help at the right time and the need to create more opportunities for women to disclose distress in a way that feels safe for them and that gets them access to support without delay. Falling through the gaps, published today with the Royal College of GPs, showed the importance of raising awareness among family doctors as well as midwives and Health Visitors about the signs of distress and the actions to take when they are asked for help. It also noted the importance of targeted action to battle the stigma and fear that prevent many women from asking for help when they need it.
Today’s announcement should help to fill some of the gaps in mental health support for children and parents. It is important to note, of course, that people of all ages and from all backgrounds can experience mental ill health and only a minority of any age group get the support they need. There is never a wrong time to ask for help and it is vital that all health professionals are able to respond appropriately when someone seeks support, and that access to care is improved across the board.
It is now up to every CCG, every local authority and every school to look at how far they are meeting the mental health needs of the people they serve and what they can do to enhance it. The evidence of the scale of need and the benefits of intervention are so overwhelming that no local area can afford to do nothing, nor wait for additional funding to appear to take action that is required without delay.
The case for reinvesting in mental health is overwhelming. Failing to do so can no longer remain unchallenged.