By Emma Snaith and Saman Javed
Local authorities and charities in the EastLondonLines boroughs have given a qualified welcome to a Government pledge to boost mental health support for school pupils, stressing that it was overdue and “only a start”.
The Government is promising an extra £300m over the next three years to fund proposals to improve child mental health.
However, local agencies said that any money allocated might not be enough to effectively tackle the high levels of mental health issues and the complexities of the diverse communities in the areas.
Tower Hamlets has the highest rate of estimated mental health disorders among children of all the London boroughs and Hackney is in the top ten London boroughs, according to data published by Public Health England.
Lewisham and Croydon, along with most of the rest of London, have high levels of mental health issues among children compared to the rest of the country.
A government green paper published last week set out proposals to introduce a four-week waiting time for children needing specialist support and new mental health support teams in schools. It is hoped that around one in four schools in England will have this provision in place by 2022.
Tower Hamlets Clinical Commissioning Group welcomed the proposals as a way of “testing’ services to improve child mental health. It said: “The proposals are particularly important to us in Tower Hamlets, where waiting times to first appointment are currently at around five weeks. More work is needed to reduce waiting times for NHS services for those children and young people who need specialist help.
“We recognise the important role of mental health support teams. These need to be clearly defined and are likely to differ depending on the needs of each area.”
Hackney Council already has similar plans in place to improve child mental health in the borough, which will be introduced a year before the government’s plans begin to be rolled out in 2019.
Councillor Jonathan McShane, Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care and Devolution, said: “We and the City and Hackney Clinical Commissioning Group are currently designing a service to place mental health workers in schools, which we plan to start from April 2018. One of the key priorities in our Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services transformation plan is also to improve waiting times and access to services.
“We believe any government plans that align with our own local objectives will have a positive impact on mental health among children and adolescents in the borough.”
However, Samantha Francis, the founder of Hackney mental health charity, Find a Balance, believes that both Hackney council’s and the government’s proposals will not go far enough in supporting the borough’s BAME young people.
Find a Balance offers support to young people with mental health conditions and specialises in black and minority ethnic mental health issues.
Francis said: “It’s good that they’re actually introducing these improvements to child mental health provision, they took long enough to come up with them in my opinion.
“But the stigma around mental health among the black and ethnic minority community means that many children don’t feel comfortable about talking about these issues. So they won’t reach out to use those services in school.
“The government and the council will only provide a one size fits all solution but we need more bespoke and holistic services for these children. England is so diverse and especially London and Hackney so you need to think about it more strategically.”
In addition to the complexity of the diverse population of the ELL boroughs, child mental health problems are exacerbated by high levels of deprivation.
According to the Indices of Multiple Deprivation, a national study of poverty, Hackney is the second most deprived London borough. Tower Hamlets is the most deprived borough in London, with 42% of children living in poverty.
Tower Hamlets CCG said: “There is undoubtedly a strong link between deprivation and poor mental health outcomes: the latest national figures show there are significant levels of deprivation in the borough and child poverty.”
A spokesperson from Hackney Council said: “As an inner city London Borough, we would expect estimated prevalence rates of mental health issues to look high due to the complexity of our population and relative deprivation.”
Unlike Tower Hamlets and Hackney, the prevalence of mental health disorders in children in both Lewisham and Croydon is significantly lower.
Richard Paccitti, the director of the Croydon branch of the mental health charity Mind, said: “Hackney and Tower Hamlets are boroughs where the level of deprivation is higher than general in Croydon. Not many children in Croydon are living in situations that a lot of young people are in those boroughs.”
Paccitti also welcomed the government’s proposals but expressed concerns over the capacity of school support teams to deal with the wide range of mental health problems that children may experience.
Paccitti said: “There’s all sorts of reasons why young people might have mental health issues. It might be to do with bullying or harassment, an eating disorder or self-harm. So there’s a worry that the teams in schools might not be able to deal with the broad level of problems that might present.”