Many teachers and school staff lack the proper training and seem “scared” of tackling mental health issues with their students.
This is one of a number of findings from a report by the House of Commons Health Select Committee into the provision of Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).
The report concludes that there are “serious and ingrained” problems with the commissioning and provision of CAMHS.
Of direct relevance to schools, MPs on the committee have concluded that funding reductions have resulted in increased CAMHS waiting times and referral thresholds.
The report also warns that CAMHS are facing “challenges in maintaining service quality” because of the funding cuts.
The MPs are calling on NHS England and the Department of Health (DH) to “monitor and increase” spending levels on CAMHS until “we can be assured that CAMHS services in all areas are meeting an acceptable standard”.
However, a number of the report’s recommendations are targeted at the Department for Education (DfE), which it says must do more to support and train school staff so they have the confidence to tackle mental health issues with pupils.
The MPs said that while some teachers and schools provide excellent support, others struggle. It adds: “(These schools and teachers) seem less knowledgeable or well trained, and can even seem ‘scared’ of discussing mental health issues.”
They call on the DfE to include a “mandatory module” on mental health in initial teacher training, and also mental health modules as part of CPD in schools for both teaching and support staff.
The MPs also want to see an audit of mental health provision and support within schools, looking at how well the mental health guidance issued to schools earlier this year has been implemented, what further support may be needed, and highlighting examples of best practice.
The committee adds that Ofsted should also make routine assessments of mental health provision in schools.
The report warns that children and young people “need to know how to keep themselves safe online” and calls on the DfE to “ensure that links between online safety, cyber-bullying, and maintaining and protecting emotional wellbeing and mental health are fully articulated”.
Referring to the new DH Taskforce, which has been set-up to investigate children and young people’s mental health, the report calls for the inquiry to also tackle “the most effective ways of supporting CAMHS providers to help young people cope with the challenges of online culture”. It adds: “We recommend clear pathways are identified for young people to report that they have been sent indecent images of other children or young people, and that support is provided for those who have been victims of image-sharing.
“Pathways should also be established for children and young people who have experienced bullying, harassment and threats of violence.”
Outside education, the report has identified a number of problems with wider CAMHS provision:
Early intervention services – seen as crucial to stopping mental health problems becoming entrenched – are being cut or have “insecure or short-term” funding in many areas.
Despite increasing demands for mental health services for children and young people, many local clinical commissioning groups report having “frozen or cut” their budgets.
There are problems with access to inpatient mental health services and concerns about the quality of education children and young people receive when they being treated in inpatient units.
MPs are particularly damning about what they term the “wholly unacceptable practice” of placing young people detained under the Mental Health Act in police cells.
The report highlights that it is 10 years since the last survey of children’s and young people’s mental health and as such we now have a “lack of reliable and up-to-date information”, meaning that those planning and running CAMHS have been operating “in a fog”. It says that gathering this information must be a priority for the DH and NHS England.
Chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, Jenny Edwards, said the report made for “grim reading”. She added: “Fragmented services under enormous strain are struggling to deliver adequately within an overall system which has failed adequately to prioritise their funding, commissioning, and inspection.
“The committee has identified shortcomings in governance at every level – from the Departments of Health and Education via NHS England, Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission, right down to local areas.
“Proper information that drives adequate commissioning will provide a deeper understanding of what services are available at present, what is needed, and what the prevalence of mental health problems are. Without understanding the true scale of need, and what it will cost to meet it, government will continue to be unable to implement the changes so urgently needed.
“These changes will need to be implemented quickly, within the lifetime of the next Parliament. If these changes are not made we risk losing a generation of young people to mental health problems which are avoidable, had the proven evidence-based treatments, been made available.”