Billy Watson: Our kids can’t wait any longer to get the help they need

Half of all mental health problems in adulthood begin by the age of 14. Picture: John Devlin
Half of all mental health problems in adulthood begin by the age of 14. Picture: John Devlin
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We all have mental health, and anyone can experience a mental health problem. Young people are no different. In fact, half of all mental health problems in adulthood begin by the age of 14.

The new campaign by SAMH (Scottish Association for Mental Health), “Going To Be”, is all about making sure that the three children in every classroom who experience a mental health problem by the age of 16 have every opportunity for their future.

Billy Watson is chief executive of SAMH. Picture: Lenny Warren

Billy Watson is chief executive of SAMH. Picture: Lenny Warren

We can’t always prevent young people from experiencing a mental health problem, but we can make sure the help they need is there, when they need it.

Growing up in today’s world presents many pressures. Evidence of the detrimental impact of social media and technology is starting to emerge. Bullying no longer stops at the school gates, but can continue online at any time of day, or night. Expectations of the “perfect” body image are increasingly unrealistic as the selfie culture becomes a part of everyday life. The list goes on.

So perhaps it’s not surprising that a recent study from the University of St Andrews has found that the proportion of young people who feel “very happy” reduces with age. A Scottish Government survey published last Wednesday also found that the proportion of pupils reporting higher than usual levels of emotional problems increased from 16 per cent in 2006 to 26 per cent in 2015.

More young people than ever are seeking help for mental health problems. Perhaps this is a positive sign that the stigma around mental health is diminishing; but with almost 7000 young people rejected from Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) last year, and another 6000 young people waiting to be assessed last quarter, it’s clear that not enough is being done to meet this demand.

Mental health support for children and young people requires review, refocus and investment in early intervention services to help young people at the earliest opportunity. GP’s, teachers, school staff and parents need more options. We need to invest in non-CAMHS services that focus on early intervention so that young people can access help quickly.

We’d like to see two fundamental changes in schools across Scotland. The introduction of a programme to train all school staff in mental health, and the provision of counselling services in schools. Our teachers, and our young people, can’t wait any longer.

CAMHS is over-stretched. Young people are waiting months to be seen, and then when they reach 18 (or 16 in some areas), they have to move to adult services, or cope on their own. Often neither service feels right, and the transition can be unsettling.

In the long term, we want to see the development of a specialist service for 16-25-year-olds. In the meantime, we’d like to give young people the option to stay with CAMHS until they’re 25.

The situation is urgent, it’s not getting better and SAMH wants to see it change.

“Going To Be” is about us all coming together – young people, parents, siblings, friends, teachers, professionals – to create one voice on this issue and help shape the future we want for young people’s futures.

Join the campaign today at www.samh.org.uk/goingtobe. It’s got to change, and with your help, it can.

Billy Watson is the chief executive of SAMH