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Mental Health Services: Young People

Volume 805: debated on Thursday 24 September 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether mental health services for young people will be expanded to deal with concerns expressed during the COVID-19 pandemic; and if so, how.

My Lords, Covid inevitably puts pressure on young people, which is why we are increasing support through our £8 million Wellbeing for Education Return fund, which raises awareness of the tools available to support mental well-being and ensure that children and young people are directed towards the right services. That is part of our commitment to invest at least £2.3 billion of extra funding a year into mental health services by 2023, which will see 345,000 more children accessing specialist mental health support each year.

I thank the Minister for his response. Is he aware of the demands of professionals, parents and children themselves to prioritise mental health services? What he says is good, but is it enough? Some 80% of young people say that their mental health has become worse during the Covid pandemic. Will the Government urgently expand services for young people through increased counselling in schools and community services? Otherwise, the human and financial costs will be enormous.

My Lords, we are greatly concerned about the human and financial costs, as the noble Baroness rightly points out, which is why we put in place the Wellbeing for Education Return fund. It is training the trainers, working through the Anna Freud centre, the well-respected child mental health charity, and it is already having a huge impact. Some 95% of the attendees in a recent session said that they were extremely or somewhat pleased with the programme, and we are expecting it to be rolled out across schools.

My Lords, I spoke last week with a young person whose father, sadly, died recently of Covid-19, and she told me about the impact that experience has had on her own mental health. I am therefore grateful for the reassurance from the Minister that Her Majesty’s Government will be strengthening access to mental health services in our schools and, I hope, in our colleges and universities. Are there any plans for bereavement support and counselling to form part of that provision?

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Carlisle is right to emphasise bereavement support. We all remember well the difficulties faced by family or friends who were bereaved in the terrible circumstances that we were put under during Covid. We have put £9.2 million of additional funding into mental health charities, which includes charities that provide bereavement support. However, I will take away the well-made points of the right reverend Prelate and will look into whether more could or should be done.

My Lords, we know that a particularly risky time for children and young people is when they move across and between services, whether that is accessing CAMHS for the first time or moving on to adult services. Can the Minister reassure me that face-to-face appointments will still be made available for those important relationships to be established and embedded?

My Lords, face-to-face appointments are incredibly important for some people, which is why we have emphasised the return to work, particularly in GP surgeries. However, I would like to make the case for internet or telephone services. They have proved to be extremely popular among some mental health patients, who find the direct intimacy of face-to-face too overwhelming and prefer instead to do Zoom or telephone consultations. We are supporting analysis of where these rightfully work and in the meantime are supporting face-to-face when preferred or necessary.

My Lords, I declare my interests as in the register. Like young people, many older people have suffered a significant deterioration of their mental health during the pandemic. Due to social distancing restrictions, many counselling and other mental health services can be accessed only online. Recent research by the International Longevity Centre found that 11.9 million people in the UK lack the digital skills they need for everyday life, and ONS figures published in May show that only 47% of adults aged 75 and over use the internet. What support will the Government give vulnerable older people experiencing mental health issues, and how will they support those who are digitally excluded so that they can still have access to mental and other important health services?

My Lords, the digital gap in social care, particularly for older people, is enormous, and the noble Baroness is entirely right. NHSX has a large programme called Joined-up Care, which is seeking to help bridge that gap. It includes, for instance, the provision of a large number of iPads to social care homes. However, the noble Baroness is right that that will not be enough to provide the care for those for whom digital access is simply too challenging or unavailable, which is why we will continue to support face-to-face and direct forms of care when necessary.

My Lords, it should be alarming to know that suicide rates in the UK have soared to record levels, with the highest rates over the past two decades recorded at the end of 2019. I hope the Minister will share my concern that these alarming figures will only continue to rise post lockdown and that everything needs to be done to prevent that. Can the Minister say what Her Majesty’s Government are planning to do to tackle specifically the risk of increasing suicide rates post lockdown?

We are deeply concerned about suicide; any suicide is too many. The noble Lord will be aware that the increased numbers recently are in part due to the recategorisation of suicide among the coroners’ courts. Nonetheless, we take this issue very seriously. The programme to help people identify those who show the markers of suicidal thinking has provided a very important impact on this issue. We are deeply concerned about Covid, and we continue to support suicide charities.

My Lords, calls to the eating disorder charity Beat’s helpline nearly doubled during lockdown, and at the same time fewer children and young people started treatment for eating disorders compared to the previous year. What are the Government doing to ensure sufficient funding for children and young people’s eating disorder services so that young people can access the help they need?

My Lords, provision for young people is at every level of the health service. It includes direct school interventions through the programme I discussed earlier, it is within the NHS, where we have an enormous emphasis on eating disorders, and it is in young adult care. The provision of £9.2 million to charities during Covid included charities that support young mental health and eating disorders, and it remains a major priority for the Government.

My Lords, I congratulate all those who worked so tirelessly to make sure that students have gone into higher education this autumn. However, let us be honest: a lot of young people going to these places are sitting in their rooms, lonely, having virtual lessons and very little social interaction, and that will have a huge effect on their mental health. I urge Ministers to take responsibility for the mental health of our students as they are social distancing.

My noble friend Lady Fall is right that the plight of students is tough; going to college will not be like it was in our day. That is why the DfE is putting together a Covid catch-up package of £1 billion, which will include support for universities and for the mental health of students.

My Lords, may I return to the issue of counselling? The criteria of the Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, of a counsellor in every school for every child who needs one would help relieve pressure on struggling CAMHS services. Does the Minister acknowledge that the children’s mental health system will struggle to cope as long as we are failing to provide early help to tackle problems before they become crises, and will the Government commit to ring-fence funding for mental health in schools, colleges and universities to enable them to provide mental health support to all young people who need it?

My Lords, we are rolling out our response to the Green Paper on mental health for young people. That has included the implementation of mental health support teams, which will make a big impact. In addition, and in response to recent circumstances, on 8 September we launched a mental health well-being campaign specifically for children and young people through the PHE website. It encourages a personal mind plan and the use of a quick and easy interactive tool, and 2.5 million mind plans have been completed since its launch.