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The NHS rollout is already one year ahead of schedule – more than 500 teams will be confirmed ahead of the April 2023 ambition with millions able to access help when they need it.
NHS mental health support teams are now in place in around 4,700 schools and colleges across the country, with 287 expert teams offering support to children experiencing anxiety, depression, and other common mental health issues.
A further 112 teams are in training and will start over the next year, with an additional 104 new teams starting their training in 2022/23, taking the total to more than 500 across the country.
Speaking during a visit to Richard Challoner School in Surrey to see how an NHS mental health team have supported children throughout the disruption of the last two years, the Head of Mental Health Care in England, Claire Murdoch said the services will provide a “lifeline for many young people who are struggling and need some help”.
A record 650,000 children and young people were in contact with mental NHS health services over the last year – up from 534,000 compared to before the pandemic.
Experts hope that by intervening early they can prevent problems escalating into serious mental health issues, with health chiefs warning that the isolation and upheaval of the pandemic can be compounded by factors like pressure experienced on social media platforms.
Claire Murdoch, NHS National Mental Health Director said: “Children’s lives have faced enormous disruption over the last two years which is why NHS staff and partners have worked flat out to fast track the roll out of hundreds of mental health teams in schools and offer support to millions of pupils, a year ahead of schedule.
“NHS mental health support teams are now in place in around 4,700 schools and colleges across the country ready to listen to any anxieties or issues children may have and I would urge everyone, whether you’re a teacher, parent or child, to access this help before any issues escalate.
“The NHS Long Term Plan will continue to invest in not just mental health support teams, but mental health services more widely as part of plans to support a further 345,000 children and young people with mental health services by 2024”.
Since opening, the local mental health team covering Richard Challoner School and other schools across Kingston have supported hundreds of pupils, with nearly 250 pupils referred so far.
One of the children who have been helped at Richard Chancellor school is a Year 10 pupil. He said: “I found the sessions really useful and it made me think about ways I can help myself to feel better about everything and improve my mood”.
One of his parents, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “We were so grateful for the timely support and the quality preventative input it provided.
“Our son was really struggling, and the regular support enabled him to learn simple and practical strategies and tactics to be able to improve his wellbeing and his mental health in both the immediate challenges he was facing at school and help him to have a better perspective for his future”.
Referrals to the teams can be made by teachers or GPs, as well as in cases like Gloucestershire, by the young person themselves through the texting service they have established.
Experts in the teams will offer children one-to-one and group therapy sessions while helping to improve the whole school’s community awareness of mental health through training sessions for parents and workshops for teachers.
Those with issues are then offered tips on how to cope, including workshops on how to sleep better. The teams also run wellbeing sessions for teachers. The first 59 school mental health teams began work in March 2020.
Minister for Mental Health, Gillian Keegan said: “The last two years have been particularly challenging for children and young people so it’s important they can access support as early as possible.
“Our investment is paying off – the £79 million we have provided has allowed the NHS to accelerate the rollout of mental health support teams and expanded community services so tens of thousands more children can get help.
“We’ve also opened a call for evidence to gather views from people of all ages to inform a new 10-year mental health plan to keep the nation in positive mental wellbeing and I urge people to respond”.
Probable mental health problems among six to 16-year-olds in England have risen from around one in nine in 2017 to around one in six in 2021.
Around two in five six to 16-year-olds have also experienced a deterioration in their mental health since 2017.
The acceleration of mental health support teams in schools is only one part of a wider package of NHS support that will be on offer to children and young people as they come to terms with the impact of the pandemic.
The NHS has introduced 24/7 crisis support lines, face-to-face, telephone or digital appointments so issues can be identified, and help given sooner.