Radical new preventative approach needed as figures reveal £1.77bn mental health treatment gap for young people

The Commission’s independent report ‘Investing in a Resilient Generation’, launches today at Westminster

A radical new Government Strategy focused on preventing, and not just treating, mental ill health in young people is required as a report by the University of Birmingham reveals today that an additional £1.77bn funding and 23,800 staff are needed to plug the current treatment gap.

The only way to stem the rising tide of mental health problems amongst the young is a major drive to tackle the causes rather than putting all the effort into attempting to increase the workforce and funding needed to meet demand for treatment, says the University of Birmingham’s Mental Health Policy Commission following its major inquiry into the mental health of children and young people.

As the NHS considers its plan for the next 10 years following the Government’s announcement of a £20bn funding boost, the Commission is calling on Prime Minister Theresa May to ensure it includes funding for new prevention policy and practice in childhood and adolescence to address causes of poor mental health across the nation.

The Commission’s independent report ‘Investing in a Resilient Generation’, launches today at Westminster and reveals the scale of the shortfall in the funding and workforce - from psychiatrists to nurses - needed to match current demand for mental health provision for young people aged 25 and under.

The Commission says the figures, produced on its behalf by NHS Benchmarking as part of its inquiry, illustrate the need for a paradigm shift to invest in the nation’s mental resilience, starting early, supporting families, schools, workplaces, and communities to be the best they can be at nurturing the next generation.

The report comes at a time when half of life-long mental health problems show their first signs by the age of 15, and three quarters by the age of 25.

The report outlines that access to appropriate mental health support and treatment is a lottery for young people, and by 2021 only a third of young people in England facing mental health difficulties are likely to have access to the support and treatment they need.

Currently, only seven pence in every pound the NHS spends goes on children and young people’s mental health, while poor mental health costs the taxpayer an estimated £105 billion per year.

The authors of the report, which contains powerful evidence from a range of contributors including young people currently experiencing mental health challenges and health experts, argue for a two-pronged approach to prevention: maximising young people’s resilience, and minimising the risks they face in life.

The report argues for the funding and creation of a 10-year Government Grand Challenge that focuses on investing in a resilient generation – shaped by Public Health England, local government and Innovate UK - to close the prevention gap and recognise that mental illness is the single largest global challenge of disease.

Professor Paul Burstow, former Minister of State for the Department of Health, and Chair of the University of Birmingham’s Mental Health Policy Commission, said: “We need to increase access to mental health treatment and care for young people. But the scale of the workforce challenge makes it essential that we get serious about prevention too.

“There is already sufficient evidence of what works to increase resilience and reduce the risks of poor mental health amongst our young. It is time to act. By addressing the causes of poor mental health, not just treating the consequences, it is within our grasp to halve the number of people living with life-long mental health problems.

“Mental illness is the single largest global burden of disease. We need a national research, development and delivery effort to build on what we already know can work.

“The Government’s Industrial Strategy offers a model. Closing the mental health prevention gap and investing in a resilient generation should become one of the Government’s Grand Challenges.

“The nation’s future prosperity requires a sustained investment in the nation’s mental resilience: starting early, supporting families, schools, workplaces and communities to be the best they can be at nurturing the next generation.

“What is required is a whole-systems change and ownership of the mental health and resilience agenda across national and local government, and across non-statutory agencies and communities, as no single agency can achieve the necessary shift on their own.”

The Commission wants change in the way spending on prevention is accounted for to support investment, along with the radical upscaling of Public Health England’s Prevention Concordat for Better Mental Health.

It is also calling for new public health policy that would see the systematic measuring of the wellbeing of children and young people, as well as investment in ‘big data’ research to better understand societal challenges and how to respond to them, and Government policy reviews to prevent mental health issues arising as a consequence of inequality.

Meanwhile, it also wants local Health and Wellbeing Boards or Combined Authorities, supported by local authority Public Health leads, to initiate a local dialogue with other agencies, schools and community groups about how they can work together to build a resilient generation in their area.

The report was authored by Professor Paul Burstow, Dr Karen Newbigging, Professor Jerry Tew, and Benjamin Costello, all of the University of Birmingham, and was funded by the University’s College of Social Sciences and international mental health research charity MQ: Transforming Mental Health.

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