We are facing a hidden health crisis. I’m not talking about cancer or some other physical illness that happens to exist under the skin, but mental health. We can visualise most internal physical diseases thanks to the wonders of modern science and our fancy scanners but we cannot detect mental health issues in the same way. Finding them takes patience and expertise, not a quick trip to radiography. Dealing with them is another matter entirely.
Mental health issues have been estimated to cost the UK £100bn every year. This is a horrifying amount. However, because they are hard to notice it is all too easy to pretend they aren’t there. No wonder mental health services have a hard time fighting for funding and that only 13% of the NHS budget goes towards dealing with them. For a type of affliction that affects 1 in 4 of us this seems to be slightly underwhelming. Understandably, ever greater funding is not a reasonable solution that we can expect. So let’s look at what we are spending that mental health budget on.
Given that 75% of mental illness (not including dementia) starts before the age of 18 and 50% before 15, you might reasonably hope that someone is intervening early to prevent this issues snowballing. Those people are called Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services – CAMHS – in the NHS. Their funding? A paltry 6% of the mental health budget. That is less than 0.8% of the total NHS budget. No wonder the government itself believes that mental health services for children and young people are not fit for purpose.
The old adage goes ‘prevention is better than cure’. For physical diseases, anyone with rudimentary biological knowledge will be able to tell you that vaccinations are a great idea. Well now it is time for us to realise that child mental health issues could be prevented, or at least their severity reduced, as well. Where could we find lots of children and young people, neatly categorised into age groups where we can implement our preventative approach? Top marks if you guessed school – where else?
This is what Nichols Education exists for. We aspire to work with schools to give all young people a bit of resilience and help ward off the worst of mental health issues. We can’t reasonably expect to prevent everything, but by inviting universities to independently monitor what we do we might be able to make a big difference and adapt what we do as new research materialises. We appreciate that endless resources aren’t available – that’s why even our maximum impact programme only costs £40 per pupil. We might not get it right first time, but we are trying to get close to creating a vaccine against mental illness. It may not take a reallocation of very many resources to achieve a reduction in the human and economic cost of mental health issues. £100bn and unquantifiable levels of suffering is a lot to lose out on for want of trying.