‘We must not turn our backs on people in Norwich’s most deprived areas’ Charity boss in call to action
- Credit: Simon Finlay Archant Norfolk
Dan Mobbs, chief executive of Mancroft Advice Project and a member of a national commission looking at child and adolescent mental health, is well qualified to talk about the subject. He spoke to DAVID POWLES about the challenges and how they might be overcome.
The facts say it all.
- An estimated one in 10 young people between five and 16 have a mental health problem.
- The number of young people attending A&E because of a psychiatric problem has more than doubled since 2010.
- Referrals for under 18s to the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) rose by 84pc between 2011/12 to 2014/15.
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Yet despite the overwhelming evidence of a growing problem, there remains a feeling not enough is being done to tackle the problem.
Fortunately, a growing number of people are determined to change that and come up with innovative ways of ensuring problems like anxiety, depression and self-harm do not manifest in people at a young age - then blight that person's life.
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One of them is Dan Mobbs, chief executive of the Mancroft Advice Project (MAP), a charity employing advisers, counsellors and youth workers to provide advice and support on problems affecting young people.
Mr Mobbs, who has been at the Chantry Road, Norwich-based charity for six years having previously worked at the Norwich Night Shelter, is also a member of the Centre Forum Commission.
The commission, chaired by Norfolk MP Norman Lamb, explores problems with provision for child and adolescent mental health and looks for solutions.
Mr Mobbs is brutally honest about why the figures continue to rise.
He said: 'There are so many different pressures on young people these days. There is exam pressure, pressure to be perfect, bullying caused by social media and body pressure, a lot of which didn't exist a few years ago.
'The problem is that we are still waiting for the system to catch up with the modern world.'
He said much of mental health treatment was too geared towards medical interventions. This may be fine in the most extreme cases, but he felt more work needed to be done to tackle everyday mental health-related problems youngsters faced.
He said: 'We still treat so much of mental health as a medical problem, to be dealt with by doctors and nurses, when in fact it is more about youth workers and teachers doing their bit.
'Mental health is not something you catch, it doesn't always need medical interventions and that is where we (MAP) aim to come in.
'The people coming to us often have problems caused by failing exams, stress, not getting on with their parents and those aren't
things that need intervention from doctors and nurses. Thinking differently is a massive change and challenge, but hopefully it's starting to happen.
'So many people end up being passed from pillar to post, seeing this person and that person. Our idea is that we want them to be able to come to just one place and get the support they need. Most of them want to be in a young person friendly environment like ours, not in a clinical setting.'
But that support costs money and the government is only now starting to make the financial promises that are needed.
According to Mr Mobbs, there is also a need for more to be done locally.
He believed, in Norwich at least, a big contributor to poor mental health was deprivation. The latest available figures suggest Norwich has one in 10 people classed as amongst the 10pc most deprived nationally - almost 13,000 people.
He is clearly frustrated by a sense some are not yet willing to admit to this - and do enough about it.
He pointed to previous multi-million pound cuts to youth services by Norfolk County Council as evidence of a failure to do enough, though further savage cuts proposed in this year's budget were scrapped.
He added: 'In Norwich we have a lot of people growing up in poverty, yet people have this very cosy idea of what it is like.
'They say 'it is lovely in Norwich' and 'it is a fine city' but it isn't for everybody, we have lots of inequality problems and lots of people who are born poor and stay poor and cannot break out of that cycle. That causes all sorts of problems, in particular around mental health.
'You have children living in these areas who have been told they are failing for so long they believe it, it affects their self esteem and they can't change it.
'We need resources to be put into community based provision to tackle this. We have to target and give support to those people who really need it. We are not going to change this by doing the same for everybody. We have to double our efforts to support disadvantaged people.
'Five years ago Norfolk decided to reduce its youth services budget and now we have this problem. That isn't a coincidence. We must spend this money in the deprived areas where it is badly needed.'
Do you have a story for our Mental Health Watch campaign? Email David Powles at email@example.com
ACTION IN SCHOOLS
The charity is involved in a five-year project to deliver an early action mental health programme at City Academy, City of Norwich School and Notre Dame High School.
It operates on a drop-in basis and support ranges from a friendly ear through to counselling and referral to specialists where necessary.
Parents are also supported so that they can help their children.
Mr Mobbs said that every school had a duty to do more to support the wellbeing of their pupils, adding: 'Over the years schools have become much more curriculum focused. The pressure to meet targets means the opportunities for discussions, physical education, those things which can promote a healthy mind, are not so evident now.
'But at these schools, they realise they cannot just get good results through education alone. They also need to promote the health and wellbeing of their students, because the two things are so closely linked. If people's mental health is good, they are ready to learn.
'However, teachers can't be expected to do this alone: although we can offer them vital training, they need more expertise, which is where this scheme comes in. In time we would like to get a counsellor in every school.'
STATE OF NATION REPORT
The Centre Forum's latest State of the Nation report on children and young people's mental health raises concern that child and adolescent mental health services are on average turning away nearly a quarter of children referred for treatment.
The report found it was often because their condition was not considered serious enough, or not seen as suitable for specialist treatment.
It found waiting time for all trusts in the country were as long as 26 weeks for a first appointment and 42 weeks for the start of treatment.
The Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT) was at least in the top 11 for mental health providers, with a median waiting time of around seven weeks for a first appointment.
Its analysis highlighted a 'stark inequality' in the NHS where, unlike the physically ill, children and young people with mental health problems were not always getting the right treatment, at the right time, in the right place.
The government said it was pumping millions of pounds into mental health services, aiming to provide faster and expanded care for youngsters.