Eighteen weeks sounds like a long time, doesn’t it? It’s pretty much a third of a year, so a good chunk of time.
It feels longer still if you’re a kid but imagine what 18 weeks feels like when you’re young, seriously depressed, racked with anxiety or possibly self-harming. And then you realise that 18 weeks is the national waiting time target for treatment through child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS).
I say it’s the national target but guess what? We keep missing it, and by a country mile.
In fact, things are so bad that last Wednesday we recorded the second worst waiting time statistics for CAMHS treatment in the history of those services. More than a quarter of children referred for treatment waited longer than the national target. That’s bad enough, but in some cases, a number of these children waited upwards of two years. That’s a national outrage.
On top of this is the reality that when it comes to Tier 4 in CAMHS provision, where young people are in such a state of crisis they have to be admitted to specialist beds – we don’t have any beds north of Dundee and those that do exist aren’t always staffed. Young people in crisis are routinely turned away.
Last year, 7,255 young people referred to CAMHS for treatment did not receive it.
The consequence of the delays and rejected referrals is an over reliance on medication to stabilise young people in crisis. Now don’t get me wrong, medication has its place, but it isn’t always effective, can lead to other complications and in many cases represents a poor substitute for talking therapies.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve raised this in parliament with the Minister for Mental Health, the Cabinet Secretary and the First Minister herself. They must have been paying some attention, because in the budget published last week there was an extra £17 million for mental health. But it isn’t enough. Not by a long shot.
Conservative estimates suggest we need to see at least £200m of investment in mental health services for young people alone. This would fund a therapist in every school and college in the country, increased provision of Tier 4 beds and a transformational uplift in capacity across every aspect of service. We also need to back this up by training our teachers to identify early signs of mental ill-health in classroom behaviour.
With suicide rates increasing by eight per cent last year alone, I’m calling on my colleagues from every party in the Scottish Parliament to put provision for mental health and CAMHS in particular at the heart of public policy and expenditure.Parliament is filled with rhetoric about this, everyone gets it and agrees we need to do more, but with such a miniscule investment in the forthcoming budget it’s clear that that political will is suffering from a significant failure to launch in terms of delivery on the ground.
Put simply, if you see a child come off their bike and fracture their arm, you’d reasonably expect them to be in plaster by the end of the day. If they start to exhibit depression or anxiety, they have to join the back of one of the longest queues in the health service. I’m not prepared to stand by and accept that any more.
Alex Cole-Hamilton is the Lib Dem MSP for Edinburgh Western.