Child mental health services face cuts in more than half of local authorities

More than half of local authorities and health trusts have cut spending on child and adolescent mental health services (Camhs) this year, according to an investigation by the charity YoungMinds.

A freedom of information request sent to 120 Camhs providers and commissioners generated 55 responses. Of the 55 responses, 29 said they plan to cut budgets in this area.

YoungMinds claimed the biggest spending reductions are taking place in councils, with some reporting Camhs budget cuts of up to 25 per cent.

According to the charity, three children in every classroom have a diagnosable mental health condition and many first seek help for problems including depression, anxiety and self-harm from professionals in school.
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But YoungMinds is warning that thousands of children and young people struggling to cope with mental distress may not get the help they need as a result of the cuts.

Meanwhile, research by the charity has also found that teams of specialist workers such as school nurses, who are trained to identify and treat children with emotional problems, are being disbanded. Drop-in and counselling services are among other vital support services being axed, the charity warned.

Sarah Brennan, chief executive of YoungMinds, said draining money from early intervention will increase the number of young people who develop severe mental health problems and need to be referred to specialist services.

“This is not only detrimental to young people and the increased suffering they will have to go through before they get help, but it is also economically unsound as more intensive support and treatment costs far more money,” she said.

“In a period of austerity this is short-sighted, and just stores up problems for the future as young people are left without access to early help, meaning mental health problems become more serious and entrenched.”

She added that councils and NHS commissioners must prioritise funding to guarantee comprehensive Camhs in their area “to avoid deepening the potential damage that further cuts could cause to children and young people’s mental health”.

Dr Margaret Murphy, chair of the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Faculty of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, said Camhs are already “increasingly overstretched”.

“Our members are also concerned that, with planned reductions in budgets, services will be unable to provide vital treatment,” she said. “Withdrawing money from services that work with children and young people who are in the early stages of developing mental health problems is short-sighted and a false economy.”

Paul Farmer, chief executive of the charity Mind, added: “Prioritising children and young people’s mental health is a fundamental part of the government’s mental health strategy, and these figures are a reflection of how little decision-makers understand about the importance of mental health care, and the devastation caused by not being able to get treatment and support when you need it.

“Axing spending on young people’s mental health may look like a money saver, but in reality failing to treat mental health problems early only leads to more problems and more costs later on.”

Caroline Holroyd, 22, a young person who suffers from anxiety and clinical depression, said she was helped greatly by a charity offering free counselling to young people.

“This service has had its funding cut dramatically and I worry for other young people who may not have access to this and similar services in the future,” she warned. “Without the help they gave me I would still be agoraphobic and suffering from crippling anxiety; they gave me back my life.”