Can we afford to delay mental health support in schools?

We read with despair recently that pupils may not have access to mental health services for a decade (article from Schools Week – January 2018).

“In the NHS Long Term Plan, the government said that by 2023-24, an extra 345,000 children will be able to access mental health support via local health services and new school-based mental health support teams.”

However, rolling out such services is more likely to take 10 years to implement. So what about the generation of children that will grow up in those 10 years? They will become adults, expect to have a career, a life plan of some sort or perhaps further their education. And yet, anyone struggling with mental health issues, or perhaps caring for someone with mental illness, will be left to cope through their childhood, and particularly their teenage years, without any support.

Our recent study showed that 70% of children who have a parent with a mental illness will go on to develop some sort of mental health issues themselves. Our analysts predict that by 2021, the number of children and young people at risk of this would amount to 3.4 million, at a huge human and economic cost. If a quarter of these young people develop depression by 2021, the estimated cost to the government is £470 million. And yet with relatively low-cost interventions this number is significantly reduced.

With schools and local authorities under ever-increasing pressure, it should probably come as little surprise that such interventions and plans will take time to implement. But can we really justify this length of time without doing anything? Can we really allow £470 million to be spent in two years time in a bid to right the wrongs of children’s mental health at the eleventh-hour? What will be the figure if that is stretched to 10 years?

And yet, these 3.1 million children are not recognised by public policy. That £470 million could be reinvested into the schools systems to provide meaningful support, early intervention and thus prevention of mental health issues in later life. Low cost intervention now, not in 10 years, could mean a generation of children is not lost. A generation of adults with mental health issues will not be created. So can we really afford to wait this long?