‘School days are the best days of your life’, the saying goes. But growing evidence is showing us that childhood is increasingly fraught with stress and anxiety. The pressure to do well at school, bullying, problems at home, along with overstimulation from smartphone apps and social media, is pulling children’s attention in various, sometimes even nefarious, directions.

All of this is taking its toll on the mental wellbeing of our young, who are far less equipped to cope with our competitive, round-the-clock world than us adults. It’s a sad truth that around one in every nine children aged 5-15 has a diagnosable mental disorder, with higher levels among late teenage girls, children from disadvantaged backgrounds and those in minority groups. Here in Brighton and Hove, the rate of self-harming among 10-25 year olds is alarmingly high. And the number of all cases referred to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services has jumped to 1,065 from 906 in 2017-18.

Children’s Mental Health Week

The scale and nature of children’s mental health problems are hard to fathom without inviting kids into the conversation. So the theme of this year’s Children’s Mental Health Week – Find your Brave – attempts to do this. It encourages people of all ages to share stories and tips on how to respond bravely to life’s challenges, to help empower children and young people, and encourage them to seek support for any concerns or signs of mental illness.

Opening up the conversation in this way is critical to de-stigmatising mental health problems in children. But a range of joined up services – along with a massive injection of cash – must also be in place to cope with the size and complexity of the problem. The fact that only 6.36% of the Government’s mental health budget was spent on children’s mental health in 2016 shows it has not been taking the problem seriously enough.

A recent Care Quality Commission (CQC) report found that young people in particular struggle to access treatment. More recently, Brighton and Hove Green Councillor Sarah Nield was told by NHS representatives that children with specialist mental health needs are waiting more than 8 weeks to be seen, which is a long time to leave vulnerable young people in limbo.

The Conservative Government’s NHS Long Term Plan was slammed by Greens and education professionals last year after it emerged that pledges for increased youth mental health support would only reach 345,000 children by 2024. The Government has since promised more money; given the economic and social costs of poor mental health are estimated at £100bn a year, you would expect it to be in their interests to get it right.

Greens push for more support in schools

Following a push last year by Greens for schools in Brighton and Hove to prioritise the delivery of activities to help prevent mental health problems, the council and schools have introduced some changes in provision. Seven extra staff have been recruited into the city’s inclusion support service, to enhance mental health services in schools. The new team started during the autumn term, focusing on schools in areas of highest deprivation. Alongside the one-to-one support offered to children by specialists, school staff will be offered training to help them respond to poor mental health and low self-esteem in their pupils. But while this additional service is welcome, we remain concerned about cuts to the council’s budget that could dilute the overall effectiveness of provision. An 80% cut was proposed to our city’s youth service budget just a few years ago – and while averted – we must keep the pressure on the Labour Council to properly fund support for young people.

A Sussex-wide review of mental health services is due soon, looking at the demand, capacity, outcome and experiences of children’s mental health services. Greens want our young people to be offered the first-class mental health support they need and deserve. We are ready to challenge this review if it fails to meet these important needs.

We need to nurture our children’s mental health more than ever, but it’s up to government – local and national – to ensure adequate funding is in place to provide a wide enough range of complementary mental health services. We need to both prevent and treat mental illness, while enhancing our children’s emotional and behavioural health. These interventions must be available to all our young people when they need it, so that they all have the opportunity of growing into emotionally healthy and happy adults.

Children’s Mental Health Week is this week, 3-9 February, and is organised by children’s mental health charity Place2Be. To find out about how you can support children and young people’s mental health during the week, see here.