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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 June 2006, 12:03 GMT 13:03 UK
Young 'failed' on mental health
Miserable boy
One in ten children have mental health problems
Mental health problems in children and adolescents are on the rise, the British Medical Association has warned, and services are ill-equipped to cope.

One in ten children, aged one to 15, have a mental health problem, says a report from the BMA's board of science.

But mental health services are failing the most vulnerable, such as children in care and those from black and ethnic minorities, they conclude.

The board has urged the government to address problems with funding.

Around 1.1 million children under the age of 18 would benefit from support from specialist mental health services, the BMA has estimated.

Implement measures to cut child deprivation
New innovative and flexible services designed for the young
Media to stop using derogatory terms for mental illness
Boost mental health professional numbers

Children from poorer backgrounds, children in care, asylum-seeker children and those who have witnessed domestic violence, are all at particular risk of developing mental health problems, the report says.

But vulnerable children may become stigmatised and struggle to access overstretched services.

The mental health problems covered by the report included depression, anxiety, self-harm, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, eating disorders and obsessive disorders.

It is estimated that 1% of children and 3% of adolescents suffer depression in any one year.

Self-harm is also on the increase with 11.2% of girls and 3.2% of boys committing an act of self-harm.

The figures suggest boys and girls tend to suffer from different mental health problems.

Gender differences

Girls tend to have more emotional disorders such as anorexia, with a higher prevalence of conduct disorders such as frequent and severe temper tantrums among boys.

"Children from deprived backgrounds have a poorer start in life on many levels, but without good mental health they may not have a chance to develop emotionally and reach their full potential in life"
Dr Vivienne Nathanson, BMA

The board said that government policies designed to tackle the problem, including moves to reduce child poverty, must be properly implemented.

They called for adequate funding and staffing of child and adolescent mental health teams, improved services for children in care and said racism within mental health services must be eliminated.

And teenagers aged 16 to 18 years must receive appropriate care for their age and not just be passed on to adult services, they concluded.

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, Head of BMA Ethics and Science, said: "Children from deprived backgrounds have a poorer start in life on many levels, but without good mental health they may not have a chance to develop emotionally and reach their full potential in life.

"There are a number of government policies currently being rolled out that are aimed at tackling these problems. It is essential that they deliver what they promise."

Cycle of despair

Dr Marcus Roberts, head of policy at mental health charity Mind, said: "This important report reminds us that environmental and social factors have a big effect on mental wellbeing, and also that services for young people's mental health are frequently lacking.

"It's crucial that the right kind of services are there to break what can become a cycle, wherein poverty contributes to mental distress, which in turn leads to unemployment, stigma and further poverty."

It is essential we act now to prevent a generation of children being blighted by mental ill health
Avis Johns

Avis Johns, YoungMinds Development Director agreed: "With the majority of adults with mental illness able to trace their symptoms back to childhood it is essential we act now to prevent a generation of children being blighted by mental ill health."

Shadow Children's Minister Tim Loughton condemned long waiting lists for child mental health services, and the fact that some young patients were being forced to spend time on adult mental health wards because specialist services were not available.

He said: "The government must take urgent action to make children's mental health services a priority.

A spokeswoman from the Department of Health said between 2002 and 2005 the number of staff working working in child and adolescent mental health services increased by more than 40%, and the number of cases seen has also increased by more than 40%.

She said 300m had been invested in the service in the last three years, and experts were advising on how best to improve services.

"The Department expects local specialist commissioning groups to use this cash to finance in-patient psychiatric units which allow for effective service planning for the local population."

The comments below are a reflection of your experinces of mental health problems in children and adolescents:

It's not just young people. The state of mental health services in this country is shocking across the board. I have suffered from periodic bouts of depression of varying severity since my teens. I'm now in my 30's and I have only just started to receive any serious help. The whole mental health system is hugely under-funded and services are very dependent on where you live. I work with vulnerable teenagers and it's like banging your head on the floor trying to get any kind of recognition for their condition. Services are miles away from where students live and you simply can't deal with their worries in isolation without offering support to their families and the communities they live in.
F, Sheffield

It's good to see that over the years people are being made more aware of the severity of mental illness in children and adults alike. I myself have suffered from depression, anxiety and OCD since as long as I can remember and I am only 24 now. What frustrates me is that I have had to research and find ways to deal with my problems on my own. It seems that unless there is an obvious root cause to someone's depression there is nothing anyone can do but offer an ever growing prescription of drugs. What needs to be realised is that when someone seeking help is told by a professional that there is nothing they can do for them this can be enough to make someone give up on life altogether, especially in the state of mind that they may well be in at the time. From my experiences it has become very clear that there is some dead wood in the mental health area who cause more harm than good through their lack of up to date knowledge.
Ben, Worthing, England

My 19 year old son is currently in crisis with his depression. I have found it virtually impossible to get help for him. Hospital A&E departments aren't interested in mental health issues; they just patch them up and send them on their way. We hear excuses about whose boundaries we come under for mental health services and so frequently fall through the gap. We have never seen the same person twice and can't get access to a CPN. Today I had an emergency referral to the community mental health team from our GP. When I called the duty team to arrange the emergency assessment as my son is still suicidal, I was told that no-one could see my son today as they had a team meeting and I would have to wait for an appointment to be sent in the post! My heart goes out to Judy from Derby. I read her comments with dread. I hope we are able to get the support denied to her son before its too late for us.
L, London

I was diagnosed with depression about 18 months ago, and was very fortunate to have a supportive and compassionate GP, who pointed me in the direction of a free counselling service, which has helped me a great deal. I tried anti-depressants, but decided that it wasn't the option for me. Although I still have low times, they have become more infrequent, thanks to the counselling and support from my boyfriend. However, it could have all been very different if I had seen a less sympathetic GP. Surely mental health should be a priority. Without good mental health, being in good physical health is redundant.
G, London

When I was 14 I started self-harming, and I have always had various problems with my mental health, from simple everyday stress all the way to suicidal ideation and coming close to suicide attempts. I always found this very hard to talk about, my parents still don't know ten years on, so when I finally got up the courage to seek help from medical "experts" for my problems I had high hopes that finally I was going to get the support I needed and maybe even some advice on how to cope. All I got was a prescription for some drugs that made me even worse and an appointment with a counsellor whose response was "you're doing everything right, keep it up and I don't need to see you again." I now talk to myself about it because I've found I'm the best listener I know. I work in the NHS but I don't seek help from them with my problems any more.
Caz, Leicester

My son became unwell with depression at the age of 14. I didn't know how to recognise it, and didn't know anything about depression in adults, never mind a young person. My son said that he had felt unwell/different/anxious since a young age, about seven years old. This was 17 years ago, when there was nothing which helped me understand what was wrong with my son. Even when he was diagnosed as depressed, we, his parents, were not included in any discussions or ever told of the nature and seriousness of his illness. I feel very sad and, yes, angry that we have been let down by the NHS. Mental health was the poor relation, then and now. There is little or no help given to those who have to care for a person with mental health issues. There is a little more understanding now than 15 years ago about the issues but not enough because there has been little publicity. Eye tests, hearing tests, inoculations, but no mental health checks. No wonder we have a drug and drink epidemic, so many people having to self-medicate because they do not have the correct diagnosis or support and lack of understanding of mental illness. Stigma through ignorance. My son did not survive his mental illness. He took his own life at the age of 29 because he lost hope. One of the reasons that he lost hope was because he was not supported in any consistent way. He was never ever offered a CPN in 15 years of depression.
Judy Fryer, Derby UK

Far too little is being done to help children and young people with mentally disordered and/or drug/alcohol -using parents. It is almost always assumed by mental health 'professionals' that the problems these children face are of genetic origin and hence no appropriate help is available. I know this from experience.
Mark Vero, Leeds, Yorkshire

I've been affected by mental health problems since I was at school, and they continue right into university. Unfortunately, all that is every available is prescription drugs and waiting lists for therapy are terribly long. I have never been able access an appropriate programme. For a guy, it can be particularly difficult to approach many services, with little empathy from peers and on occasion, from teachers. Mental health support services would be better provided within schools and educational establishments as part of the pastoral care of students.
M, London

Hear one survivor of childhood mental illness's story


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