Investing in children's mental health services is excellent value for money and will bring a lifetime of benefits to young people, their families, communities and the economy as a whole, according to a report published today by Centre for Mental Health for CentreForum's Mental Health Commission.

Investing in children's mental health examines the costs and the benefits of a range of interventions to prevent or treat some of the most common mental health conditions that affect children and young people.

It finds that there is a wide range of interventions for conduct disorder, anxiety, depression and ADHD that not only improve children's mental health but also lead to substantial economic benefits including future savings in public spending. Group parenting programmes for conduct disorder in young children, for example, generate measurable benefits of at least £3 for every £1 invested, while group cognitive behavioural therapy for anxiety in adolescence produces benefits of £31 per £1.

The report concludes that under-investment in children's mental health support is a false economy. But it also warns that to achieve the best value for money, children’s mental health services need to reach out to those who need them most and to be delivered to a high standard. And it finds that there are significant gaps in evidence in one or two areas of great need and growing concern, such as self-harm and eating disorders.

Centre for Mental Health chief executive Sean Duggan said: "Despite clear evidence that the financial benefits of supporting children's mental health far outweigh the costs, only a minority of children with mental health problems get any form of treatment. And recent cuts to mental health services suggest that this gap could be getting wider rather than narrowing.

"Our analysis implies that failing to meet children's mental health needs carries a heavy cost that can last a child's lifetime. It is vital that health services, schools, local authorities and community bodies work together to offer young people effective interventions where they need them, when they need them in a way that they find helpful."

Professor Stephen Lee, Chief Executive of CentreForum, said: "It is clear both from this report and from earlier work undertaken by the CentreForum Mental Commission that there remain significant gaps in children's mental health treatment, with most young people missing out on much needed support. Intervening early in mental health helps to nip problems in the bud. That in turn saves money by eliminating the need for costlier treatments down the line. This is one of those areas where government would be better off spending more on services than cutting them."

Rt Hon Paul Burstow MP, chair of the Commission, said: "Just one in four children and young people with a mental health problem receive any treatment. We have a once in a generation opportunity to put in place a much better service that offers children and young people timely care and support. This report provides the essential ingredients forcreating mental health services that are fit for purposes. Getting this right will have life long benefits, the case for investing is compelling."

Download Investing in children's mental health PDF (828 KB)