Dr Lisa Cameron (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (SNP)
It is an absolute pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Wilson. I especially want to thank the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell), who excellently set the scene about where we are and where we all hope to progress to. That is the issue: we have come some way, but we are still on a journey in terms of mental health services across people’s lifespan.
I thank the Petitions Committee and the members of the public for supporting a debate on mental health education in schools. It shows that it is extremely important to all: our community, our constituents, children, adults and parents. It is important to MPs, as we can see today. There has been such a great consensus—it is one of the debates that I have attended where there has been such a great consensus—and that is so important to see.
I must declare an interest in mental wellbeing as a psychologist, although I worked largely with adults. I am also a member of the British Psychological Society. I was saying earlier today at a conference on trauma counselling that I think now is a pivotal moment for mental health. We all know, and are in agreement, that something has to be done across the lifespan, and this is our opportune moment to take that forward.
The petition calls for mental health education to be made a mandatory part of primary and secondary school education. That is important. Across the UK and the devolved Governments, we cannot go on with this postcode lottery. It is happening everywhere—no one service is perfect—and we all have so much progress to make. We have all been trying to make sure that services are in place. I see from my own career how far things have come, but we cannot continue with the postcode lottery. It is not fair on people. It is not fair on parents or children. We must address young people’s mental health.
Only 70% of secondary schools and 52% of primary schools currently provide counselling. Research suggests that one in 10 children aged from five to 16 suffers from a diagnosable mental health disorder. It is so important that that is picked up at an early stage. As has been stated so eloquently in this debate, including through Members’ personal experiences, if we can identify and support such children at a key early stage, prevention and early intervention will be by the far most effective interventions. That is why it is so crucial for resourcing to be targeted at that level.
Seventy-five per cent. of children and young people experiencing a mental health problem are not accessing treatment. This is the tip of the iceberg, so much more resourcing is desperately needed. In ensuring that people can come forward and speak, and that they have awareness about mental health issues and can seek treatment, we must ensure that they can access resources for support and treatment at every stage. Ninety per cent. of teachers have reported increased rates of anxiety and depression among pupils over the last five years. Clearly, we need this debate and a consensus and, importantly, we need action.
Mental health first aid training for all teachers is a welcome step forward. It has been mooted that teachers are already overburdened and that adding to their stretched teaching lives might make things very difficult for them. However, I would suggest that they are overburdened because these issues are already prevalent. Children are experiencing them, so we must ensure that they are identified and that adequate care pathways are available. If teachers can have awareness training to pick up early symptoms, that early detection will be key for prognosis.
The Green Paper on children and young people’s mental health is expected later this year, and I am extremely keen to hear what the Minister can tell us about that today. I hope he will indicate the type of progress that might be made, because we are all keen, listening ears here today and right across the United Kingdom. We must share best practice and look at the pilots working in each area of the UK, and we must ensure that those are rolled out when evidence-based practice is making a real difference for children and young people.
The collaboration between education and health services must be improved. The care pathway is needed. As I have said, identifying the issue and enabling young people to speak about it is the first stage. However, many of them will then need to access adequate help at different levels of the care pathway. It is important that we focus on mental health at a school level, because if children can verbalise their issues and teachers can recognise them, we will start to make the progress required.
This is not so much about mental illness, but about teaching wellbeing and coping skills and skills for life. The earlier we can do that, the better—even at pre-school, which has been spoken about, that is key—because the earlier that modulating emotions, concentration and mindfulness can be taught, the greater success children will have going into their adulthood. They will have a greater ability to cope with the stressors that will come into their lives later and they will go on to experience fewer difficulties that require treatment. Addressing this issue is not only economically vital, but about skilling up our future generation to cope with mental wellbeing and to cope holistically with life.
There is a need to push for a statutory footing with clear guidance. I agree with the hon. Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis (James Morris) that interventions need to be peer-to-peer based and child-friendly. Children use a variety of digital technologies that are well beyond my capability, but that is how they operate in today’s society. They listen to one other—in adolescence, they listen to one another much more than they do to parents and teachers—so we must use our knowledge to ensure that peers educate peers and that we tap into digital technology for a positive response. All too often, social media can have a negative impact on mental health, fostering a culture of bullying. Some children believe that they do not have as many friends online or that they do not measure up, but we can tap into the resources that children use and turn that around, ensuring that their mental wellbeing is a key part of those apps and social media.
Focusing on diagnostic testing and access to it is also key, particularly for autism, and I have tried to champion it throughout my time in this House, because it is badly needed. Parents continually come to us all saying that they are unable to access adequate services. We need a map of clinicians with the relevant training around the UK, so we can look at where the gaps are in autism diagnosis training. We then need to fill those gaps and make sure that, no matter where someone stays, if they require a diagnosis, it happens, so that parents can access the services required for their child.
The British Psychological Society is calling for access to applied psychologists to ensure the full assessment of complex cases. We have heard about the types of complex cases that should perhaps be prioritised, including looked-after and accommodated children who might have already experienced trauma and might be most at risk.
In conclusion, I will speak briefly about a couple of my constituents. The first wrote to me as a very concerned parent, desperate for support for her 10-year-old child who struggled for years with her mental health but who has been unable to access child and adolescent mental health services. I will take that case forward, but just how many more parents are struggling with those issues across the United Kingdom? We must all work together across all the nations to ensure that we fill those gaps.
Helen Mitchell is an excellent lady who has triumphed over adversity and runs the Trust Jack Foundation, a trust created in memory of her son who suffered mental illness and took his own life. She supports services for young children suffering mental illness, including art therapy, support groups and befriending. We must remember that it is not just skills but the community and health—all of us must work together to ensure that mental wellbeing is something we take forward positively for all.