Action plan for young Islanders’ mental health

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The Children and Young People Mental Health Draft Strategy comes amid an increase in demand and complexity of need for mental-health services, and was launched during Mental Health Awareness Week.

Assistant Children’s and Education Minister Trevor Pointon said ‘too many children and young people struggle with their wellbeing and mental health’.

As part of its Common Strategic Policy, the government made one of its headline targets for this term of office to put children first.

The new strategy pledges commitment and investment to developing children and young people’s mental-health services, with indicative investment of £6 million over three years between 2022 and 2024 agreed as part of the Government Plan. A further £2.25 million recurring from 2025 onwards has also been agreed, with the investment in addition to existing budgets.

Among the aims of the strategy are to provide a drop-in café for young people to discuss their mental health, training some young people to become mental-health ambassadors, creating a dedicated helpline and increasing the support and therapies available to young people and their families.

Children’s Commissioner Deborah McMillan said the pandemic had shone a ‘very strong light’ on the need to support young Islanders’ mental health.

She said: ‘The Covid-19 pandemic did not create the challenges we have in providing adequate mental-health support to young Islanders, but it did shine a very strong light on that need. Everyone, no matter what their age, has a right to be treated for mental-health issues.’

Deputy Pointon said the government was also currently in the process of taking on five extra Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service staff, after the experience of 2020 and sheer number of referrals.

Waiting times for initial therapeutic intervention stood at eight weeks at the beginning of the year, he said, which was reduced to six weeks by March, with the hope that an additional £950,000 in funding will reduce that further.

Waiting times were not a ‘problem that has just arisen last year’, said Deputy Pointon, but the pandemic had ‘created all sorts of anxieties’.

Recently released Scientific and Technical Advisory Cell minutes revealed a ‘concerning increase’ in demand for CAMHS services, ‘evidenced by the size of the team’s caseload, the length of the waiting list, waiting times and the duration of stay in hospital’.

Hospital managing director Rob Sainsbury gave a presentation to STAC on 1 March, saying the CAMHS team was ‘relatively small and had been experiencing high levels of activity and pressure before the pandemic, which had compounded the situation’.

This included a 105% increase in paediatric hospital bed nights in 2020, compared to the previous year, with over 55% relating to mental-health needs.

The minutes also highlighted that the local CAMHS caseload, per 100,000 of the population, was higher than in the UK and had grown by 19% during 2020.

Deputy Pointon said a bid of £955,000, made outside of Government Plan funding, to the Council of Ministers had been successful, which would fund extra staff and pilot a drop-in café for young people to discuss mental health and wellbeing issues, among other initiatives.

Deputy Pointon said: ‘We have already reduced waiting times and we look forward to reducing waiting times considerably over the course of the year.’

Waiting time figures were not yet available for April, but Deputy Pointon added: ‘We would expect the trend to be reducing and we would be aiming for a max two weeks wait by quarter four given our clinical staff recruitment efforts.’

Mrs McMillan said that the pandemic had caused a ‘huge amount of stress and disruption’ for the Island’s young people and the sense of ‘rising anxiety was palpable’.

She said: ‘Young people spoke to us about it in emotive terms, with almost 1,000 children and young people telling us they were experiencing worry and anxiety. Added to this, we know that the number of referrals to CAMHS also rose during this period. And yet, waiting lists for initial appointments persist, as do weeks-long waits for treatment.’

Former Children’s Minister Sam Mézec said: ‘There is absolutely no doubt that the CAMHS provision needs to be expanded and that this won’t be an overnight fix.

‘We cannot get complacent, and even though waiting times for referrals have reduced, they are still too high and young people will be suffering during that time. Young people have made it clear that they consider this a priority, and we have to listen to them and keep working to deliver a better service for them.’

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