‘We were crying out for help and support for a very very long time and she shouldn’t have deteriorated to this level’

Claire – Mother of Jess, BBC Panorama

It was hard to hear this heart wrenching plea issued by a mother on last week’s BBC Panorama presented by Sean Fletcher and aired on the twenty fourth of September. We could not agree more and echo her sentiments resolutely. The programme raised a poignant but important concern that has long been a topic of discussion amongst mental health professionals and those families whose children are impacted by mental health difficulties. The question posed seems very simple: where can children and young people go when they are struggling to cope?

With the panorama investigation finding that at least one in ten young people report they are suffering because they are experiencing mental health difficulties, you would imagine there is a clear cut answer. Unfortunately, as was discovered throughout the course of the programme, often when families reach out for support they are shocked to find there is little available and what is offered is not an appropriate response or intervention and will not effectively assist the child throughout their recovery. While this may come as a shock to the families trying to support their loved one through a crisis, it is not so surprising to the Association of Child Psychotherapists. Their representative Nick Waggett advised that in a number of cases children and young people will have attempted suicide on a number of occasions before they are seen within the mental health services. Similarly, the Royal College of Psychiatrists reinforced this perspective. Dr Jon Goldin, when asked if child and adolescent mental health services where fit for purpose, acknowledged that regrettably they are not.

In fact, press reports have increasingly cited an epidemic of mental health difficulties amongst children and young people.  A recent report by the BBC released statistics in August which indicated over a fifth of fourteen year old girls report self-harming. On the programme, research is cited indicating that reports of self-harm amongst children and young people having doubled in the last twenty years. Nick Waggett outlined that children and young people are not seen in the mental health system until they have severe symptoms; at this point they are seriously unwell. In essence by the time they are seen the case has become complex and is much more difficult to treat. We owe it to children, young people and their families to treat these cases before they reach this stage.

A difficulty which consistently emerges when considering the provision of treatment for children and young people is the absence of appropriate training available which would allow therapists to work effectively with this vulnerable demographic. For how can you work with disorders in which you have not been trained? We are unaware of any comprehensive professional training available to garner therapists with the necessary skills to treat children and young people.

With the NHS sources approached throughout the programming repeatedly citing that children and adolescent mental health services are facing increasing demand and that many positions within these services remain vacant it is clear that adequate training is an urgent requirement to resolve this impending crisis. If you are interested in further information, The Northern Ireland Commission for Children and Young People have conducted a number of studies concerning the topic of the mental health needs of children and young people which you can access on their website linked below.