‘Demoralising’: Doctor’s stark warning over cuts as Suffolk sees rise in child mental ill health
A “perfect storm” of rising mental ill health in children alongside public sector cuts could leave Suffolk’s young people struggling to deal with ever-growing pressures such as social media and exams.
That is the stark warning from Dr Hazel Harrison, who has urged all public services to join forces to help growing numbers of youngsters facing intolerable stresses and strains.
The Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT) has long come under fire over the area's mental health care, with the organisation rated "inadequate" three times in a row.
But Dr Harrison, who worked as a clinical child psychologist before setting up consultancy ThinkAvellana in Suffolk, said: "I don't think you could ask for more hardworking, committed individuals who constantly go above and beyond."
Teachers have also been urged to provide more support for youngsters, with schools like Thurston Community College employing psychologists to help pupils with their mental health.
But while she praised that school's "good model", Dr Harrison said: "I think schools are doing a lot and we have to be careful about saying they should do more."
More the problem, she believes, is that services like the NSFT simply do not have the time or resource to help people as much as they would like.
"There has been an increase in the prevalence of mental health problems in children and young people," she said.
"We have this perfect storm where there are more cases being presented and cuts to the NHS mean there is less resource available.
"If there was the same level of resource, maybe it would be just about manageable - but with the two together it is difficult.
"It's demoralising if there's still more need and you can't, over time, meet that."
She also said cuts to other areas, such as Sure Start children's centres, had contributed to the overall impact.
"It doesn't seem there's the resource available to offer longer term interventions, where we maybe need to working with families for months or years," said Dr Harrison, who read psychology at the University of Leeds before going on to study clinical psychology at the University of East Anglia.
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She said many people in child and adolescent mental health teams are forced to get by with what they think is "enough" care, rather than what they think the young person needs long-term.
"That is really disheartening at times," she said.
"There is great evidence to say we need to work together if we're going to deal with this.
"It's the only way we can do it."
Social media and exams are often blamed for a rise in youth mental health problems.
However Dr Harrison stressed there is no single cause, adding: "Social media gets a bad rap.
"There are sides to it which aren't helpful, such as cyberbullying and trolling, which can be really harmful.
"However not having any presence in terms of social media can also have an impact.
"It's about having a healthy relationship with technology. A healthy balance is crucial in helping young people to have their own space and downtime."
Dr Harrison conceded young people today feel more under pressure, particularly from "the need to excel".
She also said that where parents are struggling, it can put the whole family under pressure and have a knock-on effect on children.
Part of the solution, she believes, is children being taught from a very early age - even as young as four or five - how to express emotions, so they grow up comfortable talking about mental health.
Asked if she thought there was a stigma around mental ill health, she replied: "I think it's being broken down but there's still a long way to go in terms of getting to a place where we're as comfortable talking about it as we are with something like back pain.
"There's perhaps a little bit of anxiety about what the right thing to say is, but I think we're getting better.
"Young people certainly seem to be more comfortable talking about their mental health than some adults are."
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