Government must invest in comprehensive mental health support from age 0 to 25, says new report from Centre for Mental Health

14 December 2021

The mental health of babies, children and young people has been underfunded for too long, leaving a postcode lottery of support, according to a report published today by Centre for Mental Health for the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition.

Time for action, by Nick O’Shea and Zoe McHayle, calls for a comprehensive national investment strategy to support the mental health of everyone up to the age of 25. It finds that children’s mental health has had decades of underinvestment, leaving big gaps in provision and wide variations from one area to another, including in core services such as health visiting.

Time for action is based on an economic analysis of investment in mental health support from ages 0 to 25 in England. It finds that investing in children and young people’s mental health produces big economic returns. Early years services, school-based mental health support and open access hubs for young people up to the age of 25 offer good value for public money as part of a comprehensive system of support.

Yet provision continues to be sporadic, often limited to ‘pilot’ projects rather than full national coverage of interventions that are known to make a difference.

The report notes that the recent Spending Review does little to address these gaps. And without a comprehensive strategy to invest in children and young people’s mental health, opportunities will continue to be missed to help children and families early on and prevent much more serious problems later in life.

Time for action says a comprehensive strategy should include sufficient funding for essential services through the Public Health Grant as well as investments in whole-school approaches to mental health, in early support hubs for young people nationwide, and in new models of care for specialist services to prevent out-of-area hospital admissions for children. The report also calls for a national outcomes framework for children and young people’s mental health services.

Centre for Mental Health chief executive Sarah Hughes said: “Children’s mental health has been left to chance for too long. We have know for a long time that supporting children’s mental health is a good investment, yet funding has lagged behind and provision of support is highly variable.

“Our analysis is clear: we need a comprehensive national approach that gives everyone a mentally healthy start in life, and effective support at every stage of infancy, childhood and adolescence. The Government’s planned new mental health strategy is an opportunity to set a clear ambition and direction of travel. And when the NHS Long Term Plan is refreshed, we need to secure national coverage of effective services for all.”

Chair of the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition, Sir Norman Lamb said: “We know that mental health problems among children and young people are sadly rising but the services that support them are battling to meet the increase in demand.

“For too long, our members have been calling for increased and proper investment to be made into children and young people’s mental health support and they can no longer be ignored. The findings are clear that it is now more important than ever that comprehensive investment is made into a mental health system that supports all babies, children and young people.

“The Government frequently talk about ‘levelling up’ and improving opportunity for all. Now is the opportunity to act on their commitment and invest in a holistic mental health system for 0-25 year olds.”

Download the report

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