New research from the UK’s Action for Children shows that the mental health of children has gotten worse over the last year, or “remained persistently bleak.”
The research, conducted by the charity Action for Children, looked at the views of its managers across 650 services in support of over 300,000 children. Almost one-quarter of staff members surveyed believe self-harming is on the rise among young people and there is greater need for support. In addition, 90% of participants felt there has been in a decline in children’s mental health over the last year.
Over half of all staff members represented reported an increase in depression rates among parents over the last year. The charity believes this to be due to an increase in pressure from a variety of sources, including job loss and debt.
Action for Children chief executive, Sir Tony Hawkhead, said: ‘As a society, we are sleepwalking towards a precipice when it comes to child mental health and the time to wake up is now.
‘Emotional wellbeing is fundamental to every stage in a child’s life – from starting school to entering adulthood – and services must devote everything they can to ensuring families receive support early, to avoid crisis.’
Hawkhead is asking local authorities to offer more early support for children and provide an increase in attention to any warning signs that may arise. Recently, funding for support services has seen a drop while the need for services is on the rise.
‘The Government has recently recognised that more attention needs to be paid to children’s mental health, but has yet to present any detailed plan to tackle the issue. It doesn’t have to cost more.
‘We are calling on the Government to move more existing funding to early help. It is not about significant increases, but smarter spending.’
According to Natalie Delaney, practice leader at the charity’s Target Youth Support in Wakefield, early intervention is the key to success. The charity provides services such as the Intervention Projects, which provides help to families in the early stages of need before they reach a crisis point.
A 15-year-old from Wakefield had used the service earlier this year due to feelings of depression and anxiety caused by mental bullying at school and problems at home. Prior to using the service, she had begun to drink alcohol and smoke marijuana, causing her school attendance to suffer. “It was nice to talk to someone else and it helped me build up trust between me and my mum.”
In a separate study, professor Richard Layard and his team from the London School of Economics’ Centre for Economic Performance have discovered that children’s emotional health is more important to their satisfaction levels later in life than other factors, such as childhood academic success, or wealth as an adult.
The findings of the study bring into question the importance of providing early intervention for children.
“Child interventions can produce massive savings to public finances but these are often at a much later date,” the authors note. They conclude: “By far the most important predictor of adult life-satisfaction is emotional health, both in childhood and subsequently. We find that the intellectual performance of a child is the least important childhood predictor of life-satisfaction as an adult.”