CAMHS shortfall is having a deadly impact on young people

Originally posted on Mental Health Today on August 25th 2017

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By Stephen Bradshaw, Aurora CEO

Our guest blogger has joined Britain's leading family judge in highlighting the impact created by the lack of appropriate children and adolescent mental health services.

For a few days at the start of this month the life of a suicidal 17-year-old girl was in the balance and became a focus for the lack of mental health services for young people in the UK.

The case made national headlines after Sir James Munby, the president of the Family Division of the High Court, rightly said there would be "blood on our hands" if the individual in question did not receive adequate supervision.

"I’m sad to say that too often I have witnessed this refusal to register new provision lead to suicide in young people with mental health issues."

Fortunately, at the eleventh hour, a suitable placement was found but I fear that that may not have been the case had Sir James not been so public in his criticism.

Life-saving services

Sadly, I know through bitter personal experience that the outcome in these types of cases is often not nearly so positive.

Time and again young people have been failed by our system because the life-saving services they so desperately need are simply not there.

As a society we are judged by how we treat our most vulnerable members - frankly, we are coming up woefully short.

Both as the current CEO of a special educational needs provider, and formerly as the person responsible for CAMHS (child and adolescent mental health services) at one of the UK’s largest independent providers, I have been frustrated (to put it mildly) to see attempts to fix this deadly shortage thwarted at every turn by politicians and misguided regulators.

The lack of provision for children and adolescent mental health has been known for a long time and yet the NHS and government strategy has been clear - to ignore it.

Independent providers have attempted time and again to open CAMHS units in areas of perceived needs but have been turned down, told that there is no need in that area.

In effect, the regulators have become the ‘gate keepers’ by refusing to register new provision.

I’m sad to say that too often I have witnessed this refusal to register new provision lead to suicide in young people with mental health issues. What a tragic waste.

Preventative steps

So why is this the case? Why are the regulators and the Government deaf to the needs of some of the most vulnerable young people in our society?

Firstly, there is a lack of understanding that children don’t suddenly become sick, then have a few months treatment and are cured. Meaningful provision means preventative steps must be taken to protect our young minds from an early age.

We need far more robust education in our schools and care homes to identify the signs of mental health – and strategies and support put in place to help these worried youngsters.

It is also crucial that there are ‘step down’ facilities so young people have the support to re-integrate them into society and are not just dumped back in the situation that caused their illness in the first instance.

Sparse coverage

Currently we are a long way from this level of provision.

Instead, we are faced with sparse coverage across the UK and young people with mental health issues being detained in totally unsuitable provision such as police cells and young offenders’ institutes. This is guaranteed to keep a young person in a state of crisis.

Successive governments have failed our most vulnerable members of society and the suicide of young people has sadly become all too common. This outrage must end.

Perhaps Theresa May is the one to do it? Certainly her rhetoric on how she will put massive cash into mental health services for young people is welcoming, but we want action - not words. We have had the latter in the past and now it is too late for some of our young people.

We are in the grip of a mental health epidemic and our young people are on the frontline. If this was a physical disease outbreak there would be a national outcry – mental health is no less deadly if left untreated.

I applaud Sir James Munby for highlighting the lack of CAMHS provision, I only hope that the Government and regulators are listening too.