Many parents contact us about their experiences with their local Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service, known as CAMHS. They've either had difficulty accessing it or when they finally get an appointment it proves to have been a colossal waste of time and expectation.
Personally speaking, I have had both a bad experience, when we were told Son1 wouldn't benefit from CBT because he had Asperger's and more recently, a good experience, when Son2 has benefitted from a having a very good child psychiatrist.
Dr M even referred us for family therapy. At first we resisted, saying it was five years too late and we didn't need it. But then, I became chronically ill which changed our family dynamic, so we went ahead and are finding it useful. I'm sure there are also lots of other families who have benefitted from CAMHS too, from whom we never hear.
However, the service across the country is highly variable - even within local areas - and this should not happen, especially when children's mental health is at stake. These concerns have been expressed in the Chief Medical Officer's report entitled Closing the Gap - Priorities for Essential Change in Mental Health which proposes 25 areas for improvement within mental health services across the board.
In light of this and other concerns raised, the House of Commons Health Select Committee, led by Stephen Dorrell MP, has launched an inquiry into the CAMHS service, looking specifically at:
- The current state of CAMHS, including service provision across all four tiers; access and availability; funding and commissioning; and quality.
- Trends in children’s and adolescent mental health, including the impact of bullying and of digital culture
- Data and information on children’s and adolescent mental health and CAMHS
- Preventative action and public mental health, including multiagency working
- Concerns relating to specific areas of CAMHS provision, including perinatal and infant mental health; urgent and out-of-hours care; the use of S136 detention for under 18s; suicide prevention strategies; and the transition to adult mental health services
It comes not a moment too soon. The CMO report stated that half of those with lifetime mental health problems first experience symptoms by the age of 14. Some will be more prone via genetics or through conditions such as Asperger Syndrome or similar.
But mental health problems can affect anyone.
As I know only too well from my own experience, childhood trauma can drastically change the way you relate to the world for the rest of your life, particularly without therapeutic help after the event.
Even without experiencing trauma, life can be intensely stressful for many young people today. Although always-on technology and standards can bring undoubted benefits to children's development, they also bring pressure.
Young people are constantly being tested at school, while at home their brains are bombarded with information from the internet, TV and video games.
More stress comes in the form of the immense demands of doing well at exams followed by fierce competition to secure a college place or job in an overcrowded market. If it's college there is also the need to fund it, then get a job to pay it back - something I never had to contend with back when there were no tuition fees and even maintenance grants were given to support us.
On balance, it think it was a wise investment by the government at the time, for me and my peers, which would include Mr Gove.
Children today have, on the whole, far less early independence and freedom to roam with their friends through parental fears of them coming to harm and being thought of as neglectful parents.
I am no exception to this even as I remember the sheer joy of leaving the house aged eight and even younger, exploring the tumbledown abandoned pig sty in a farmer's field or playing on the remains of a disused rail line. It's now all cleared up and turned into a nature walk. Safer, yes, but much less fun.
Add into this lack of physical freedom, the horror of cyber bullying while they are permanently plugged into their screens. Yes, bullies have always existed - I was bullied at school - but at least I could escape in my own home. Now, it can follow you into your bedroom and continue to damage your psyche, until it all becomes too much.
Life today for children can be relentless and as parents, the pressure on us, too, is immense with one in six adults taking antidepressants. We all fear our children not being able to grow up and thrive, even if they are not affected by any kind of disability. We are worn down by the judgement of others on the way we look, how much money we earn and especially our parenting abilities, particularly when your child has special needs.
This inquiry seems to be laden with data-driven analyses and trends. I hope there will be room in there for the actual views of families - but then, that's up to you to write down your views and send them in. The deadline for written submissions, filed online is noon on 19 March.
What do you think about CAMHS and the experience of our young people today?