WE know already – and have known for some time – that mental health services for young people in Scotland are under terrible strain. Children, teenagers and young adults often struggle to access the treatment they need; they are also sometimes judged “not ill enough” to receive support, meaning they have to deteriorate further before they get help. It is a disturbing situation, especially in a country where child and adolescent mental health is supposed to be one of the government’s priorities.

Now the need for urgent action to address the situation has been underlined by an important, and disturbing, piece of research. According to the study led by Glasgow University, 11.3 per cent of young people report having attempted suicide and 16.2 per cent report self-harm at some stage in their lives. That is a pretty extraordinary figure by any measure: one in nine young adults in Scotland say they have tried to kill themselves.

What makes the situation worse is that the one in nine with serious mental health issues are likely to experience problems in trying to get help and support. We know that around 20 per cent of the people referred to Scotland’s Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (Camhs) are rejected; we also know young people are sometimes treated on unsuitable adult wards. Mental health services in Scotland are feeling the strain, and young people are struggling as a result.

Some of the solution is obvious – more funding so Camhs can do more – but there also has to be a much greater emphasis on developing alternatives to Camhs so the symptoms of mental ill health can be spotted as early as possible. Instead of waiting for difficult circumstances to become a crisis, early intervention can help some young people avoid a worsening of their situation.

What this means in practice is that there has to be a source of help, support and advice in every school in Scotland. Such a service is already up and running in Wales and teachers there report that an improvement in pupils’ behaviour, but the situation in Scotland is much patchier. According to official government policy, a named mental health worker should be available in every school but, in reality, there is confusion about what health boards and schools are supposed to be doing and some schools seem to provide no help under the policy at all.

All of this has to change so the heart of our policy on mental health is prevention and early intervention as well as cure (properly funded). The figures contained in the new research are stark, but perhaps they will also act as a spur, at last, to change. The Scottish Government does have a suicide prevention plan, but it lacks targets, timescales, or any indication of whether new resources will be available. Perhaps it should have three words printed on its front page: prevention, prevention, prevention.