Norman Lamb writes … Improving mental health services for children and young people

healthreportImagine for a minute you are a teenager, perhaps working hard for your A-level exams, struggling with relationships and all the social and academic pressures of school.  And on top of this, you might be among the 1 in 10 of your peers suffering from depression, an eating disorder, or another mental health problem.

But if mental health services are the “Cinderella service” of our NHS, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) are the Cinderella Service of Cinderella Services.  Effective support for a young person experiencing a mental health problem can have a transformative effect on the course of their entire life.  But the current CAMHS system too often is woefully inadequate.

Earlier this year, I launched a CAMHS Task Force involving experts in the field, and also young people who have experience of mental health problems themselves.  The Task Force will look at how we can modernise children’s mental health service, making the best use of the resources available, and reforming services to end the “cliff edge” which occurs when young people move from under-18 care to adult services. It will look at how we can improve access – including through the use of exciting new online services – and how we can reduce the stigma of mental health services.

The Health Select Committee has just published a new report which reinforces my view that the current service model is failing to give vulnerable young people the support they need.  They highlighted a range of areas where services are sometimes completely unacceptable.

We are already tackling the unacceptable practice of holding some young people with severe mental ill-health in a police cell as a “place of safety”.  Local services like the NHS and the Police in each part of the country have now been asked to sign up to new standards for mental health crisis treatment.  A key requirement is to end the use of police cells for children with mental health problems.  As Liberal Democrats we can be incredibly proud that we are leading the fight to end this outrageous practice. In every part of the country, we should challenge services which fail to act.

And the programme to increase access to talking therapies for children and young people, to replace, wherever possible, the practice of using drugs to control young people’s behaviour, has now reached the point where services are covering 60% of the 0-19 population.

But this is just the start in delivering the improvements needed to CAMHS.  And we have to recognise that, in too many areas, local authorities and clinical commissioning groups have cut funding for children’s mental health services.

I will be working closely with the Task Force over the coming months as they explore ways of improving the current system.  And I am determined to see their recommendations put into practice so we make sure young people receive the support they need.

There are few things more distressing to see than a young person whose childhood has been scarred because they didn’t get the support they needed for a mental health condition.  This can go on to impact on the entire course of someone’s life if their education and social development is damaged.  Reforming young people’s mental health services is a crucial mission for us in delivering a fairer society, where everyone has the opportunity to live the life they choose.  And it is happening because of Liberal Democrats in government.

* Norman Lamb is MP for North Norfolk and was Liberal Democrat Minister of State at the Department of Health until May 2015. He now chairs the Science and Technology Select Committee

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One Comment

  • Eddie Sammon 11th Nov '14 - 12:01am

    I largely agree Mr Lamb. I think mental health problems are very widespread. I struggle to live a normal every-day life, but I am determined to crack it and I am confident I will very soon.

    Truth be told, I need to be less selfish, but I justify it by thinking how much I’ll be able to look after people once I have got better. But the excuses one can come up with to justify selfish acts seem to be innumerable.

    I don’t mind calling my illness selfish, because I am only speaking for myself, but it seems to be a problem we are not happy to admit. I wish I didn’t have it.

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