How do we deal with the increase in mental health problems affecting Suffolk children?

Children's mental health problems are increasing in Suffolk. PA/PA Wire

Children's mental health problems are increasing in Suffolk. PA/PA Wire - Credit: PA

A worrying increase in the need for mental health treatment in Suffolk was revealed on Saturday. But what is behind this rise?

Anne Humphrys and Bec Jasper have set up PACT support group for parents and families of children with disabilities.

Anne Humphrys and Bec Jasper have set up PACT support group for parents and families of children with disabilities. - Credit: Lucy Taylor

For one parent their child’s mental health problems came on the back of a period of bullying, leaving them depressed and low in confidence.

For another the pressures of school and exams became too much and they withdrew into themselves.

For a third there simply appeared to be no rhyme or reason as to why they had suddenly started to self-harm and look to end their life.

There are few things as complex in life as mental health – and determining the reasons why someone may need help can be equally as difficult as working out what that help should be.

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Some might claim society has become too quick to label a problem encountered by a child, and that in the past they would have simply ‘got on with things’.

However, experts are agreed there are several profound reasons for the dramatic rises.

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And dramatic they are. As revealed on Saturday, referrals for under 18s to the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) rose by 84pc between 2011/12 to 2014/15.

In Suffolk alone that figure was 67% with 3,972 ‘new episodes of care’ registered in the last financial year alone.

Tips: for good mental health

Tips: for good mental health - Credit: Archant

According to Chris Leaman, policy manager at the Young Minds mental health charity, the rise, also being seen nationally, is a result of ‘a perfect storm’.

He explained: “There’s more pressure put on young people. They live in a 24/7 society and can be more prone to things like cyber-bullying, they can be bombarded with images of how they should look and what they should do, which can lead to self-harm and eating disorders, and schools have become more focused on exams, which brings more pressure and everything they are told about their prospects when they grow up has been bleak.”

Dr Jon Wilson, the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust’s clinical lead for youth service and lecturer at UEA, agreed, but said there may be a more positive element too, adding: “At 18, 16 or 14 you have a whole series of developmental challenges. Home problems, school problems or drug and alcohol problems, these will compound your distress.

“We see a lot of anxiety and social anxiety, which is normal at this age. A lot of self-harm and suicidal type thinking.

“But also some of the stigma, particularly in young people, has disappeared around mental health. My daughters, for instance, are more aware of the vocabulary around mental health and more likely to say ‘I’m depressed’, which might mean we can get to the problem earlier.”

Catching the problem earlier is, experts say, also key to tackling the problems – and keeping them at bay later in life.

And Suffolk support group Parents and Carers Together (PACT) says that it is not just parents, carers and experts who should take ownership of the issue and do their bit.

Co-founder Bec Jasper, 42, from Debenham, said: “My son started suffering from some bullying in year six and became very anxious and started to have problems.

“His school had never seen anything like it before and exacerbated the situation.

“There is a massive educational gap. Schools have the most contact and influence on children – but absolutely no training, so how can they be expected to spot the tell-tale signs?”

In future she wants to go into schools to offer expert advice and guidance and is also campaigning to make mental health first aid training mandatory for at least one teacher in every primary and secondary school in England.

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More girls affected than boys

Girls are more likely than boys to need mental health intervention.

In 2011/12 53pc of those referred to the NSFT were female, but this rose to 56pc for 2014/15. In the three-year period female referrals in Norfolk and Suffolk combined increased by 95pc, compared to 72pc for boys.

Experts say this can be partly explained by an increase in both eating disorder and self-harm issues, but also because boys are still more likely to bottle up any problems they may be experiencing.

Dr Wilson said: “I have three girls and they are happier to tell you how they feel, whereas blokes will sit in a room, internalise it more and possibly drink more often or punch people.

“If we want to attract young boys to our services we need to make it relevant.

“Maybe saying come along to a group, sit in a circle and talk about your feelings – they won’t come to that. So maybe we need an activity alongside of which we think about self-esteem.”

Putting it to the test- David Powles

I have a two-year-old son and hope he never has to access services for mental health problems.

But what if he did, where would I as a parent go for help?

The age of the internet means a search engine is likely to be the first port of call for most people in that situation – especially if it is the child themselves looking for help.

But type in ‘mental health problem Suffolk’ and the results thrown up are confusing.

Of course, mental health is a massively complex subject and problems come in many different forms and many different extremes.

But to someone looking for initial information and support it is not clear as to which public body provides what, where the various charities come in and who to go to first. There are lots of well-meaning, but at times baffling, websites offering guides, tips and information about what you should do and where to go to.

To be fair, Suffolk County Council’s ‘Parent Hub’ is thorough and informative, but the first thing you probably want to do in such a situation is talk to a human – and it’s hard to find who that first phone call should be made to.

Chris Leaman, policy manager at the Young Minds charity, said this gets to the very heart of the current problem with the services provided.

He said: “The most common phone call we get is from parents who say they are lost in the system. They don’t know who to go to for help and how to access it.

“Currently we have numerous organisations offering different services but all working in silos.

“They need to work together but someone needs to take the lead on the issue and make it as easy as possible for people who need help.”

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