Looking to the future – Improving mental health outcomes for children and young people

As we approach the end of Child Mental Health Week, we reflect on the Government and PHE’s commitment to improve young people’s mental health.

Around half of all mental health problems start before the age of 14 and we know that Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services are currently facing an increase in demand. Prevention is therefore key and makes sense from the point of view of children and their families.

Building on the government’s vision for children and young people’s mental health set out in Future in Mind in 2015, the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) and the Department for Education (DfE) jointly published their response in a recent green paper.

The paper contains three key announcements:

  • Incentivising every school and college to have a designated senior lead for mental health. All children and young people’s mental health services should have a link for schools and colleges to better support them in delivering on child and young people mental health and wellbeing needs. They will do this through advice, consultation and signposting for children who need it.
  • Funding for new mental health support teams, which will be supervised by NHS children and young people’s mental health staff, to provide extra capacity for early intervention and ongoing help. These teams will be linked to groups of primary and secondary schools and to colleges, providing support to those with mild to moderate needs and promoting good mental health and wellbeing. Their work will be managed jointly by schools, colleges and the NHS.
  • A four week waiting time for access to specialist NHS children and young people’s mental health services will be trialled. This builds on the expansion of specialist NHS services already underway.

Key role for PHE

The Green Paper proposes that PHE brings together a special interest group to identify key prevention evidence, its relevance to practice, and to highlight gaps to be addressed through further research.

This will add further to the suite of resources that PHE has already published which help local authorities and wider system partners prioritise upstream promotion of good mental health and prevention of mental health including the Prevention concordat for better mental health

Embedding a whole school and college approach

The green paper sets out actions that will be put in place across the education sector to strengthen the focus on children and young people’s mental health.

The designated lead for mental health in a school or college will have oversight of a ‘whole school/college approach’ which will include:

  • mental health being reflected in policies, curriculum and pastoral support
  • staff being supported with their own mental wellbeing
  • pupil and parental engagement
  • supporting staff to be able to identify children at risk and those exhibiting signs of mental health problems  pupils and students being able to access targeted support
  • oversight for assessing the outcome of interventions on children and young people’s education and wellbeing

If implemented successfully, this work will help to address many of the recommendations that NICE[i] advocate for promoting children and young people’s social and emotional wellbeing. It reflects the principles for effective practice which PHE and the children and young people’s mental health coalition published in 2015 in Promoting children and young people’s emotional health and wellbeing: a whole school and college approach.

The graphic below illustrates the principles that make up the whole school / college approach.

Wider actions to benefit the mental health and wellbeing of children, young people and their families

While not disregarding the vital contribution that schools and colleges can make, PHE recognises the importance of taking action right across a child and young person’s life course and the wider context to their lives.

Alongside universal interventions, ensuring targeted mental health support reaches children, young people and families who need it most is crucial.  PHE will continue to use its data and intelligence to highlight populations most at risk.

We will influence early help reaching those most in need through our public health commissioning and wider workforce.

We will work with local authorities to support good mental health for local populations, strengthening individuals and communities, creating healthy places and addressing the wider determinants of health such as housing, education, employment, income, access to green space and transport.

Good mental health is essential for children, young people and their families to be able to thrive. The announcements set out in the Green Paper will help lay some of these foundations.

PHE will continue to highlight and emphasise the need for reducing the gap between children and young people with mental health problems and the population as a whole and will play its part in the wider system to help take the necessary action to make this a reality.