Staggering increase in child mental health cases in Norfolk and Suffolk
- Credit: Newscast Online
There have been huge increases in the number of children suffering from mental health problems - but the service to help them needs a complete overhaul, an investigation can reveal today.
New figures show that referrals for under 18s to the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) rose by 84pc between 2011/12 to 2014/15 with 9,166 new episodes of care last year compared to 4,971 four years ago.
Child experts say the rise comes because of a 'perfect storm' of increased pressures on young people, reductions in support services provided elsewhere and a disappearing stigma in people admitting to problems.
However. concerns have been raised that despite the increase, children and young people's mental health care remains unfit for purpose, poorly funded and complicated for parents and young people to access.
Today, bosses at the NSFT, admitted changes were needed, but outlined a major project about to be launched which they hope will revolutionise the care and support youngsters in Norfolk and Waveney receive.
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Jon Wilson, a consultant psychiatrist and the trust's clinical lead for youth service, said: 'As of September we will launch a new service for children and young people. We have spoken to them and designed the service they want. Something that is modern, relevant and which they will engage with.'
Figures for new episodes of care in under 18s, obtained using the Freedom of Information Act, show that between 2011/12 and 2014/15 Norfolk saw a rise of 101pc, compared to 67pc in Suffolk.
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Referrals for those aged 0-4 rose by 190pc, 5-10 92pc, 11-14 74pc and 15-17 87pc. Of those in need of help, some 2pc were aged 0-4, 19pc aged 5-10, 39pc 11-14 and 40pc 15-17.
Recent figures showed that in the same time adult referrals had risen by around 30pc.
Chris Leaman, policy manager at the Young Minds mental health charity, said of the figures: 'There has been a perfect storm. There's more pressure put on young people, they live in a 24/7 society and can be more prone to things like cyber-bullying, they can be bombarded with images of how they should look and what they should do, schools have become more focussed on exams, which brings more pressure and everything they are told about their prospects when they grow up has been bleak.
'But for too long these problems have been ignored, children's mental health services have been under-funded and we are now having to play catch up.'
The NSFT is one of a number of organisations, publically-funded and charitable, tasked with tackling mental health problems amongst young people in the region. The type of support depends on the severity of the problem, which can range from everyday stress or anxiety to self-harm and eating disorders.
Although the trust has seen its funding overall slashed in recent years, with further cuts set to hit, Dr Wilson said children and young people's services had not been so badly affected.
It is also waiting to find out how it will benefit from a recent government pledge to pump an extra £1.25bn into the problem over five years.
Dr Wilson, who was part of a national task-force looking at changes needed, said: 'The increase is in line with what is being seen nationally. A number of factors affect this, including rising demand for young people needing help with self-harm and eating disorders.
'The stigma associated with having mental health needs has reduced, which means young people are becoming increasingly confident in seeking help. We are also picking up the pieces of a reduction in services provided by the charitable sector.'
He said the trust was about to go live with a major redesign of the services which aimed to not only provide earlier intervention, but make services more relevant.
He explained: 'If we can catch people early enough, we can say this isn't a mental problem, it's an emotional one and help them to manage that before it potentially becomes something bigger.
'It's not about tablets, we want to offer them therapy or a person to meet them every week to guide them.
'We want to work with organisations like the Open youth project in Norwich and the Mancroft Advice Project (MAP) to make them a base where anyone, not just those with mental health problems, can go. If youngsters already go there, lets put our services there too, out in the community.
'We are also going to have a much more visible presence, get involved in schools and have our posters on buses and bus stops.
'Young people don't see mental health services as appealing to them but our task, is to make young people want to engage with it. For instance we want a very sophisticated web presence as an actual intervention.
'It's about normalising emotional distress for a lot of people. Specific people might say I can't sleep, or I worry all the time and we can say we have special techniques for that - you can learn it as a good life skill.
'I'd like fewer people when they are 40 on the books because they have learnt how to cope earlier. That is not just to save money, but society will also be better off.'
- For more about the MAP service log on to www.map.uk.net/pages. For help from Young Minds visit www.youngminds.org.uk.
- If you have experienced mental health problems and are willing to talk about your experiences please call investigations editor David Powles on 01603 772478 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Tomorrow: We speak to two young people who have relied on mental health services about their experiences and list the places you can go to for help.
MORE GIRLS THAN BOYS
Girls are more likely than boys to need mental health intervention.
In 2011/12 53pc of those referred were female, but this rose to 56pc for 2014/15. In the three year period female referrals in Norfolk and Suffolk combined increased by 95pc, compared to 72pc for boys.
Experts say this can be partly explained by an increase in both eating disorder and self-harm issues, but also because boys are still more likely to bottle up any problems they may be experiencing.
Dr Wilson said: 'I have three girls and they are happier to tell you how they feel, whereas blokes will sit in a room, internalise it more and possibly drink more often or punch people.
'If we want to attract young boys to our services we need to make it relevant. Maybe saying come along to a group, sit in a circle and talk about your feelings - they won't come to that. So maybe we need an activity alongside of which we think about self-esteem.'
PRIME MINISTER'S VIEW
Prime Minister David Cameron promised mental health remained a government 'priority' during his visit to Norfolk last week.
When questioned about the NSFT, which is currently in special measures, and presented with our latest findings, he said: 'Special measures is important. When a health authority gets into trouble the most important thing is to get it our of trouble and sort it out so it does not fester and fail.
'The money for health services is going up and Norfolk will benefit from some of the £10bn extra in this parliament.
'Mental health is now a priority. We are applying proper waiting times targets for things like talking therapies.
'For many young people with problems with depression and other mental health issues they can make a real difference and we want to make them more available.'
WHAT IS BEING DONE ABOUT THE PROBLEM?
North Norfolk MP and former care minister Norman Lamb has been a prominent mental health campaigner and has first-hand experience of the problem as his 27-year-old son Archie was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder aged 15.
In 2014, as care minister in the coalition government, he admitted mental health services for children were 'dysfunctional' and 'crying out' for a complete overhaul.
He launched a new taskforce, which included Dr Wilson and other professionals to draw up a report, called Future In Mind.
The 82-page report highlighted the need for earlier intervention to avoid young people from falling into crisis long into adulthood.
It also raised the issue of a lack of knowledge about the scale of the problem, gaps in available support, complex commissioning arrangements, variable levels of access to crisis and out-of-hours support and particular issues with the support offered to highly vulnerable groups of children.
Then deputy prime minister Nick Clegg followed up the report with a pledge to provide £1.25bn of fresh funding over five years to treat 110,000 children, as well as waiting time expectations for certain services.
Today, Mr Lamb urged the new Conservative government to stick to its pledge, adding: 'A survey I commissioned earlier this year is looking at the prevalence. That is long overdue because without proper analysis of the different issues we are simply stumbling around in the dark.
'I take the financial commitment by the government on face value but the critical issue will be to protect the funding for mental health services when we know the pressures the NHS has been placed on.
'Mental health has always been the poor relation of the health service. We have all these standards for cancer and A&E and waiting times but not the same for mental health, which means it is often the first casualty when times are tough.
'There is both a moral and an economic case to improve these services. It cannot be acceptable in this day and age that if a youngster suffers from an eating disorder, for instance, they cannot access the required treatment. Meanwhile, it is foolish not to put the investment in to this because it can save the economy in the long run.'
PUTTING IT TO THE TEST
I have a two-year-old son and sorely hope he never has to access services for mental health problems.
But what if he did, where would I as a parent go for help?
The age of the internet means a search engine is likely to be the first port of call for most people in that situation - especially if its is the child themselves looking for help.
But type in 'mental health problem norfolk' and the results thrown up are confusing.
Of course, mental health is a massively complex subject and problems come in many different forms and many different extremes.
But to someone looking for initial information and support it is not clear as to which public body provides what, where the various charities come in and who to go to.
To be fair, Norfolk County Council's own guide to child and adolescent mental health services is thorough and informative, but does not feel particularly user orientated.
Mr Leaman, policy manager at the Young Minds charity, said this gets to the very heart of the current problem with the services provided.
He said: 'The most common phone call we get is from parents who say they are lost in the system. They don't know who to go to for help and how to access it.
'Currently we have numerous organisations offering different services but all working in silos. They need to work together but someone needs to take the lead on the issue and make it as easy as possible for people who need help.'