Are you a child or young person feeling anxious or depressed? Great news, the front-line services across the UK are of good standards and committed to supporting those in need. The recent NHS 10-Year Plan outlines child mental health as a key target. So, help is out there. As always though, there’s a catch. And this time, it’s a fairly hefty one. The help you can receive all depends on where you happen to live. Mental health treatment has become a postcode lottery of sorts, and unfortunately not the variety that involves being suddenly able to afford a luxurious holiday. Different regions in this country face such immense differences in expenditure on mental health services, leaving vulnerable children and young people at a loss if they are located in the ‘wrong’ place.
On the whole, the UK is getting better at understanding mental health as a serious issue which requires funding and effort into supporting people going through their personal battles. Spending has increased overall by 17%, highlighting a commitment from the powers that be towards an improved care service for those with mental health issues. However, when you stop looking at the UK as a whole and actually study it by region or city, the statistics start to get worrying. A recent report from the Children’s Commissioner showcased that in London, local authority spending was £17.88 per child, but the moment you look at the East of England, that number goes all the way down to £5.32. That’s a difference of £12.56 per child spent on mental health services, which will restrict the number of counsellors available to help them process their mental health and find coping mechanisms. Just this simple lack of £12.56 difference is putting the health of our children at risk. Moreover, 60% of local authorities actually saw their spending on these services fall.
One consideration with how this postcode lottery is manifesting itself is the mental health issues that are suffering from the expenditure disparity. It’s usually problems like anxiety or depression which are sacrificed as they are deemed “low-level”. With the large spectrum of ways that mental ill-health can manifest itself, it’s understandable that in a time of cutting costs, some areas must receive less. However, studies show that one in four young people could experience depression before they reach 19 years old, and 8 – 11% of children and adolescents suffer from an anxiety that affects their ability to get on with their lives. Anxiety and depression aren’t uncommon problems, they are affecting such a large demographic of our society, and yet, children suffering from them face a pot-luck in relation to their treatment. Early intervention can be a life saving process for some facing depression, as early support and guidance can stave off suicidal thoughts and implement healthy preventative processes before the conditions worsen. So why aren’t we seeing the value in supporting these services and ensuring help is there for “low-level” mental health, so that then fewer cases snowball into much more serious issues? If the right preventative methods are in place, we might actually start to get a real handle on the mental health crisis occurring in the UK. This postcode lottery will only create more problems in both the short and long term.
This is simply not good enough. No child should face a lower availability of help for their mental health just because they happen to live in a different region of the UK. Most importantly, it is clear that larger expenditures into mental health services consistently occur within London; while less populated regions suffer. Local authorities in the East of England, Yorkshire and Humber however are unable to set aside those levels of money due to budget restrictions, meaning that residents miss out on key services. It’s also not just within England that the difference is felt. Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales survive with 10, 8 and 6 psychiatrists per 100,000 people respectively; while Northern and Central London enjoy 13. This data shows that anyone outside of the capital city is placed at an immediate disadvantage, which only worsens depending on where you fall in the postcode lottery.
The conundrum appears when we look at how these services are funded. Part NHS. Part Local Authority. Two areas who are infamously in need of funding and structural reform to remain sustainable. It’s thereby understandable how this postcode lottery for care can come about, but that doesn’t mean we all have to just accept it. The question is though, how?
No local authority should have to gamble with the way we treat anxiety and depression. The time has come for us to reverse this situation so that every child and young person across the United Kingdom can find the same level of (potentially life-saving) help. Whether that involves establishing a more unified network of mental health services so that everyone is working together towards a unified goal rather than independently of each other; or simply just a closer look at the way central budgets are divided across the regions, to allow for a fairer distribution. The solution isn’t clear, but the problem definitely is. Children in London shouldn’t be given a natural advantage when it comes to receiving treatment for their mental health just because they are from an area of substantial wealth and political attention. Because after all, what message does that send about children in other regions who are struggling to cope? They’re less worthy of support? Their issues aren’t as important because they live in the Midlands, the North or the South East? Every child is important and worthy of our help, so let’s start showing them just how much we’re prepared to care.
While you're here...
One Stop Social have a whole range of helpful guides, booklets, tools and more in our Resources Page which can help develop good practice when working with people who are dealing with mental health issues, no matter the region! If you want further support as a practitioner then get in touch and see how else we can help.