The route we must take to such a society will see the joining of dots between the crisis in mental health care for young people and the challenge to create thriving workplaces, which help young people make the transition from education into work.
Half of all mental health problems are established by the age of 14 and after school, the average adult will spend 90,000 hours at work over their lifetime. The front lines in the battle for good mental health in the UK are not within our NHS, they are in our nation’s schools, colleges, universities and workplaces. By the time we reach the NHS, all too often we’ve already reached crisis point.
We are facing a mental health crisis. We know that about one in 10 children and young people aged 5-16 have a mental disorder, and there is some evidence that this rate may have increased. The latest statistics from the Mental Health Foundation show that nearly two thirds of us will experience a mental health problem in our lifetime.
This week saw the launch of two illuminating new reports. The Care Quality Commission published their review of children and young people’s mental health services alluding to the difficulties many children and young people face in accessing help. On Thursday, the Stevenson-Farmer review of mental health and employers was released. How do we protect and sustain the mental health of the workforce of tomorrow in the light of the challenges in children’s mental health?
It is critical that the government addresses fragmented children’s mental health services. However, this in itself will not solve the growing crisis. There also needs to be a focus on prevention and early intervention. We need to transform the approach to mental health in our educational settings and workplaces, if we’re ever to build a mentally thriving society.
The route we must take to such a society will see the joining of dots between the crisis in mental health care for young people and the challenge to create thriving workplaces, which help young people make the transition from education into work. Beyond the moral imperative to provide children and young people with the best start in life, it is also in our own interest to do so, as these children and young people will become the workforce of the future and will be footing the bill of our retirement. Today’s young people will be our NHS and social care workforce of the future and we want them to have intelligent kindness.
There is much we can do to transform the workplaces that these young people will enter, but when we know that the majority of long-term mental health problems start in childhood, we need to tackle both challenges in tandem. Children live in families, families live in communities and embedded in communities are places of education and work. We need a place based mental health system that brings services together for the community and does away with the silo working and fortress mentality we currently often have.
The education system still has a long way to go in redressing the imbalance between attainment and wellbeing, and in many ways it is the same imbalance that employers need to address. We now have evidence that short-sighted focus on solely attainment or productivity are counterproductive, negatively impacting both.
Educational settings are increasingly playing their part, but funding pressures, lack of training, and a lack of join up with mental health services, all contribute to making it difficult for our schools, colleges and universities to support children and young people’s mental health. There is a framework for a whole school and college approach to mental health that we developed with Public Health England, and Universities UK recently published a similar approach. So we know what we have to do, but it is putting it into practice that is difficult. However, we know that many have truly innovative projects. One example is the Peer Education Project, which sees students become the teachers, educating their younger peers about mental health. It is time for businesses to step up to the plate too.
While many businesses are really leading the way, too many are still lagging behind, only considering mental health through a 70s HR lens concerned only with managing absences and costs. It’s time for them to wake up to the cost of complacency, in both human and economic terms. The fact that businesses are losing an estimated £42 billion per year reflects decades of inaction and a crisis-management focus when it comes to workplace mental health. Supporting our workforce to thrive with comprehensive, not just symbolic workplace mental health strategies is the only way of reducing this cost.
Over the years we have seen a raft of reports highlighting the problems with child and adolescent mental health services. The CAMHS Review in 2008 highlighted significant problems with the children and young people’s mental system with long waiting times for specialist mental health services, and nearly a decade later we are still facing these problems. The government will shortly be issuing a green paper on children and young people’s mental health. We have to get this right, not only for the benefit of our children and young people, but also for ourselves and for the good of our country.
Professor Dame Sue Bailey