By Kenny Graham

SAMH is highlighting the clear challenge we are facing when it comes to the issue of mental health, especially as it impacts on children and young people.

Research indicates 10 per cent of children and young people aged 5-16 has a clinically diagnosable mental health problem, around three in every classroom, while 20 per cent of adolescents may experience a mental health problem in any given year.

However the supply of mental health services has generally failed to keep pace with this increasing demand. Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) are overstretched and under-resourced. The latest NHS waiting time figures highlight the fact the NHS failed to meet the Scottish Government’s 18-week waiting time target for access to CAMHS treatment.

As a coalition we are delighted the Scottish Government has committed an additional £150 million in direct investment in mental health over five years, – to be partly used to reduce child and adolescent mental health waiting times.

However, it should be noted that less than 0.5 per cent of NHS Scotland expenditure and less than six per cent of overall mental health expenditure is spent on child and adolescent mental health.

In this context we need a mental health budget which stands up to that across the border, which would amount to an additional £100 million every year. Preventative measures and early intervention play an absolutely crucial role.

One key aspect of this is the introduction of school-based counselling services, providing support to troubled and/or distressed children and young people, including those with mental health difficulties. Unlike Scotland, counselling services are guaranteed in all secondary schools in Northern Ireland and Wales. In Wales the vast majority of children and young people who received counselling (88%) did not require any form of onward referral once counselling sessions had been completed.

Investing a fraction of the mental health budget on school-based counselling helps keep children in school and avoid unnecessary and often stigmatising mental health diagnoses, as well as reducing the burden on CAMHS. The cost of five sessions of counselling is equivalent to just one contact with CAMHS.

The cost to introduce a counsellor into every secondary school in Scotland is estimated to be around £9 million, a drop in the ocean compared with the costs of CAMHS treatment.

One of the key actions of the Scottish Government is to roll out improved mental health support for those who support children and young people in educational settings. However, only a fraction of schools across Scotland have teachers who have undergone formal training. We need to train every teacher, giving them the tools that allow them to identify and support young people in difficulty.

The Scottish Government has made it its ambition to make Scotland the “best place for children to grow up in”. Iit is time for it to rise to the challenge when it comes to the issue of child mental health, and that means a major investment in vital services.