A preliminary political skirmish has been taking place with both government and opposition manoeuvring for electoral credibility in advance of the election campaign. The battleground has been the important issue of child and adolescent mental health. However, both sides seem committed to arguing an archaic and somewhat obsolete point: there are not enough beds for young people with mental health problems and the other party is to blame. Both sides are locked in combat over an issue which is peripheral to the crisis whilst the most effective way to deal with the problem appears almost forgotten.
It is of course true that children and adolescents with mental health problems are best suited to a dedicated ward and not the adult equivalent, and everyone recognises this as highly undesirable. However squabbling over beds rather misses the point, much as though they were arguing whether to equip our soldiers with more swords; children with mental health problems should be dealt with long before they are in such a dire situation as to need a bed on a mental health ward. More beds are not a long term, feasible solution. We have to adjust to the reality that no matter who is in power, financial resources will be limited and we will have to make savings. Paying for more beds really is an inefficient way to spend these limited resources. No one is arguing that we address cholera and tuberculosis by providing more beds, when we can easily and cheaply prevent both with clean water and vaccines.
We need to act to prevent child mental health problems, routinely provide some kind of affordable screening and intervene early where we find children with developing issues. We should not even be considering allowing large numbers of children to get to the stage where they need a bed on a dedicated mental health ward. This kind of prevention, screening and early intervention can exist; Nichols Education has a sustainable and scalable model for delivering all of this for around £40 per child for an evaluation and 6 week course. Given that 10% of young people have a mental health disorder and another 15% are at increased risk of developing one, our programmes can be delivered in schools to reach all young people before problems take hold, or in the early stages. We are not expecting teachers to carry the responsibility alone – as if they didn’t have enough responsibility anyway. They are not trained to do this. We place professional therapists into schools to run these programmes and our additional teacher training is there to help them, not merely to give us an excuse for passing the buck to them.
It would be good to see politicians arguing over supporting preventative programmes like ours that are much cheaper than building a new ward for when the problems have become very serious. This is before we consider the value to be attributed to the years of human suffering that we stand to prevent.