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Early childhood mental health intervention is essential

Dr Lisa Cameron MP
November 23, 2023

The Royal College of Psychiatrists are sounding a clarion call highlighting the crucial need to prioritise infant and early childhood mental health.

They understand that the initial stages of a child's life, spanning from conception to age five, play a pivotal role in shaping mental well-being. The findings documented in their recent publication highlight that early intervention during these formative years can significantly mitigate the risk of mental health conditions emerging or worsening later in life.

It is well-established that the early years offer the greatest opportunity for preventing the onset of future mental health conditions. 50 per cent of mental health conditions develop by the age of 14, with many commencing in the first years of life.

If children and their families do not receive the crucial support they need, this can result in the development of preventable mental health conditions and long-term consequences persisting over the course of a person's life. Children may fail to reach their full potential and as a result, have difficulties growing into productive, functioning adults.

In what is a very positive response, the UK Government have recently invested in community mental health hubs and are piloting 10 early support mental health hubs to improve childhood mental health with 5 million pounds of funding. Dr Alex George has led calls for this funding and it has been championed by my colleague Dame Andrea Leadsom MP in parliament, who has recently been appointed a Minister in the Department of Health and Social Care.

If children and their families do not receive the crucial support they need, this can result in the development of preventable mental health conditions Quote

In what is a very positive response, the UK Government have recently invested in community mental health hubs and are piloting 10 early support mental health hubs to improve childhood mental health with 5 million pounds of funding. Dr Alex George has led calls for this funding and it has been championed by my colleague Dame Andrea Leadsom MP in parliament, who has recently been appointed a Minister in the Department of Health and Social Care.

The early support hubs will enable young people to receive support and advice in a physical space without the need for a referral. The hubs will benefit young people who do not meet the threshold for NHS support, helping to address concerns when they first emerge. Together this will ensure fewer young people reach crisis point. Alongside the hubs, UK Government will conduct rigorous evaluation to further develop the evidence base for early interventions.

Developments such as these are indicated across the United Kingdom and I would urge the Scottish Government to implement the hubs as soon as possible in Scotland due to the worsening mental health crisis there. According to figures from Public Health Scotland, there were more than 6,600 children and young people who were waiting to start treatment in the quarter ending June 2023. It is likely there are significantly greater numbers of children who require support but have not yet accessed services. The Scottish Government standard states that 90 per cent of children and young people should start treatment within 18 weeks of their referral to CAMHS services, however I understand that the reality is over a quarter of those referred are not seen within the 18-week timeframe. Meeting this target and developing early support initiatives in Scotland is essential, as the length of time an individual waits to receive support is often associated with successful recovery.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists are also recommending further interventions including a prioritisation of the mental health of under 5s through the delivery of a cross-government strategy, a multi-agency workforce capacity and training strategy and a national, multi-agency shared outcomes framework. Additional research and data collection is also required to target this work most effectively alongside utilisation of digital developments in health. It is vital that all mental health professionals have training across the lifespan including understanding the importance of attachment theories and evidence based early years interventions.

By taking these actions, we can make progress towards ensuring that children grow up with the best possible mental health and well-being - setting the stage for a brighter and healthier future for the next generation. The time to act is now!

This article was co-written by Bradley Powell and written in collaboration with the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

Lisa

Dr Lisa Cameron is the Conservative MP for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow.

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