By Lynn Bell, CEO, LOVE Group

AT a time when mental health sits at the core of the health policy agenda, it is important to acknowledge that many mental health symptoms begin to arise in early childhood.

This was evidenced most recently in statistics from ISD Scotland which indicated that 15 per cent of children undergoing a 27 to 30-month child health review had a concern raised about at least one aspect of their development, such as social and behavioural issues. While this was nine per cent for those in the least deprived communities, this figure rose to 22 per cent in the most deprived. Boys were also twice as likely as girls to have a concern recorded.

We know that many of these children will go on to develop mental health problems if these issues are not addressed early on.

By treating mental health problems at an early stage, children can learn how to cope and build resilience within their emotional capacity, meaning that a slippery slope into serious mental health problems can often be avoided. The consequences of mental health problems on the economy and society are well-established. Adverse exposures and experiences in early childhood increase the risk of poor social and health outcomes, including economic dependency, violence, crime and substance misuse. This become increasingly difficult to reverse beyond early childhood.

The process of reducing potential adverse impacts needs to start even before a child’s birth and continue through pregnancy and childbirth into early childhood. Organisations likes ours are rising to the occasion, providing wraparound services which deal with mental health at the earliest possible stage of the child’s life, in order to prevent further negative social outcomes when they grow up to be adults.

It should be noted that one in five women face mental health problems during their pregnancy and we know that early experiences have lasting impacts for childhood and beyond, so early intervention is crucial.

Investing and building up the services that support the maternal mental health of new and expectant mothers is key. This includes access to counselling as well as more specialist support. Given the figures it is also key that there be a particular focus on those from deprived communities.

Educating parents on mental health is a crucial area to invest in and has shown encouraging results. By providing parents with the necessary knowledge and tools to support their children’s emotional wellbeing they can start building resilience from a young age. In order to maximise the benefits of this parents should be involved in mental health education before their child is born, as well as informed of the best way to deliver support whilst the child is growing up.

Ultimately, the needs of the child must be at the centre of the process and in an environment where the public sector faces considerable financial challenges, collaboration between the public, private and third sector is vital in delivering the tailored care and support they need.

Charities have recently been stepping up in order to provide services in those areas where public sector support is lacking. Recent research indicates that 83 per cent of third sector groups saw an increasing need for their work in order to plug gaps in the provision of public services, while 92 per cent thought this will increase over the coming year.

Working together to deliver solutions allows providers to learn from each other, adopting innovative approaches to tackling key issues.If we are to reduce the burden on stretched specialist services we need to concentrate resources on early intervention with a renewed focus on deprived areas, ensuring that we close the health gap between our wealthiest and our poorest communities.