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School-based mental health services 'can deliver better outcomes'

21/06/2017 Joanna

Providing mental health services through the school system could lead to tangible benefits for young people, according to a new report.

Analysis from thinktank Localis has indicated that current problems with the provision of child and adolescent mental health services in the UK could be addressed by offering more support through schools.

A total of £1.4 billion was recently allocated to improve child and adolescent mental health services, but despite this it is expected that more than 555,000 primary and secondary pupils with diagnosable mental illnesses will not receive NHS-funded mental health care by 2020-21.

One of the key problems is that the first point of contact for young people is often very poor, meaning these children have low expectations of the quality of support they will receive, as well as a limited understanding of the severity of their own condition. Moreover, many services carry a socially unflattering stigma, increasing children's reluctance to seek help.

Liam Booth-Smith, chief executive of Localis, said the current system is undermined by lengthy waiting lists because it "fails to differentiate between young people in crisis and those close to it - a situation that makes vulnerable young people feel like nobody cares and nothing can be done".

Although school-based interventions have been shown to be both cost-effective and convenient for young people, very few local transformation plans commission school-based services at present.

The Localis report showed that 75 per cent of local transformation plans mention school-based approaches to mental health, but only 40 per cent refer to school-based counselling, with a mere three per cent including any plans to commission these services. According to the thinktank, this needs to change, while a mandatory module on mental health included as part of initial teacher training was also recommended.

Mr Booth-Smith said: "A challenge of this scale demands fundamental reform at both local and national level, to ensure our mental health system for young people quickly provides help for those in crisis, and offers support at an earlier stage to those who feel they need it."

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