To mark the start of #ChildrensMentalHealthWeek Founding Director Mary Rose Brady shares her thoughts on the impact of lengthy waiting lists on children and young people.
I recently stumbled upon a blog that I was invited to write for the Huffington Post in February 2017 to celebrate the launch of the Time to Talk Campaign. This high profile anti-stigma campaign heralded a new found optimism; hope that we could finally make a long lasting impact on children and young peoples’ mental health.
The current unprecedented surge in referrals is evidence that we have made significant inroads in tackling stigma and supporting the workforce to better identify mental health issues in children. However, where we still fail abysmally is in the provision of timely access to effective follow up intervention once referrals have been made.
It is wholly unacceptable children and young people, identified as being in distress or having a mental health problem, then have to wait for many months or even years for support. What more urgent issue could there be than a child who is self-harming or having suicidal thoughts? Likewise, an increasing number of suspected autistic children and young people are awaiting diagnosis due to ever lengthening waiting lists. The distress and exhaustion most encounter in having to mask their autism and navigate a world created for neurotypical brains has a chronically corrosive impact on wellbeing.
Yes, we have increased awareness but mental health issues continue to rise and children continue to wait. The facts make for shameful reading. At the time of the Huffington Post blog it was estimated that 3 children in every classroom had a diagnosable mental health condition, 6 years later this figure is estimated to have risen to 5.
Naturally, we cannot underestimate the added impact of the pandemic on mental health but we also have to be cognisant of the fact that numbers were on the rise pre pandemic. As mammals our innate biological drive compels us to seek proximity and consistency in times of stress, illness or threat. However, the overriding official message during the pandemic was the opposite; that proximity is dangerous as it may lead to infection and possibly death. Furthermore, our Central Nervous System’s need for consistency and predictability was to be dealt a significant blow. This virus was not predictable – no one , not even health experts could deliver a consistent message or predict trajectory or prognosis leaving us dysregulated by being forced to override our innate survival strategies. We are in no doubt a traumatised population in the wake of the COVID outbreak.
It is a soul destroying and futile exercise to stir a pot of existing anxiety and redouble the message that the future is bleak. We have an existing, committed Children and Young People’s work force who generally know their children intimately and have already established one of the key components for therapeutic change – a safe trusting relationship. Our call for action is that there is no better time to revolutionise how we think about delivering creative therapeutic intervention, practice and training. Let’s further develop the skills of the current workforce to provide immediate and effective therapeutic support through embedded targeted and whole school therapeutic approaches.
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