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Suffolk campaigners say £300m government investment in schoolchildren’s mental health is ‘not enough’

PUBLISHED: 15:00 04 December 2017 | UPDATED: 15:00 04 December 2017

Around half of all mental illness starts before the age of 14. Picture: GETTYIMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO

Around half of all mental illness starts before the age of 14. Picture: GETTYIMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO

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A major investment promised by the Government to improve schoolchildren’s mental health is too little, too late, Suffolk campaigners have said.

Anne Humphrys, from the Suffolk Parent and Carer Network. Picture: CONTRIBUTEDAnne Humphrys, from the Suffolk Parent and Carer Network. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has committed to spending more than £300 million over the next three years on ensuring pupils struggling with conditions like depression and anxiety can get help sooner.

Under the plans, every school and college in England will be “incentivised” to appoint a designated “senior lead” for mental health to co-ordinate existing school-based support as well as helping children to access NHS therapies if they need them.

These leaders will be backed by the creation of new mental health support teams made up of “several thousand” employees to improve links between schools and the NHS, and they could offer treatment such as cognitive behaviour therapy in the classroom.

However, it is understood these new initiatives will be phased in slowly and some schools may not see the benefit for at least another six years.

Education union leader Graham White. Picture: CONTRIBUTEDEducation union leader Graham White. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

Anne Humphrys, co-chairwoman of the Suffolk Parent and Carer Network, said this wasn’t good enough and improvements needed to made in Suffolk now.

She said: “We still have got parents talking about not being able to access services, so there needs to be much more funding and much quicker action and realistic action that will make a change for our children and families.

“We need to have staffing and the funding input from the clinical commissioning groups to ensure that there is the ability for all children and young people to receive the mental health service they need.

“It’s always great but when you look beyond it when the Government says it will be an unspecific time frame realistically how do we hold them to account?

Jon Neal, chief executive of Suffolk Mind. Picture: GREGG BROWNJon Neal, chief executive of Suffolk Mind. Picture: GREGG BROWN

“Sine our mental health trust is in special measures we can’t afford to wait.”

Graham White, national executive member for the National Education Union in the National Union of Teachers section in Suffolk, added: “It’s not enough but it’s a start. It’s a step in the right direction.

“The mental health of pupils is not good at all and that’s down to the exam culture, pressures they are put under and social media. If we don’t tackle mental health issues early they will only get worse.

“It’s certainly needed in Suffolk but I don’t think Suffolk is any worse of better than anywhere else.

“I would urge the Government to get money into schools as soon as possible because we need that money and delaying it for two or three years is too long. It’s welcome money but it’s too late for a lot of pupils.

“It doesn’t mean we would turn it down, we need that money but we need it now as does the NHS. If every pupil matters then we need to treat every pupil as an equal and get them the support and help they need.”

Jon Neal, chief executive of Suffolk Mind, welcomed the plans but said the Government needed to be flexible enough to try different approaches to see what worked best.

The charity already works with some primary and secondary schools in Suffolk to educate children on how to look after their mental health, Mr Neal said.

He added: “It’s not just about ‘identifying’ and ‘treating’ mental health problems, as the health secretary puts it. We need to enable children and young people to get their emotional needs met – firstly by being aware that they have them, and that they already have the tools and abilities to get them met. This gives us all the best chance of staying at the positive wellbeing end of the mental health continuum.”

Around half of all mental illness starts before the age of 14 and Mr Hunt said the aim of the project was to ensure children can get help before problems get more serious.

Other measures proposed in the government green paper include:

• Piloting a new maximum four week waiting time for NHS children and young people’s mental health services;

• Ensuring every primary and secondary school in the country is offered mental health awareness training;

• Commissioning further research into “evidence gaps” across children’s mental health issues, including how better to support vulnerable families.

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