Major commission recommends social prescribing for child mental health


The Commission on Young Lives has published its fourth thematic report, looking at the growing crisis of mental health problems among children and young people and the failures of existing services to address this. Among its recommendations is the roll out of a major programme of social prescribing for mental health wellbeing, enabling GPs and health professionals to pay for youth activities such as sport, art music and drama.

ENGLAND: The report, co-authored with the leading thinktank Centre for Mental Health, and the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition, reveals a profound crisis in children and young people’s mental health services in England and a system of support that is buckling under pressure, frequently over-medicalised and bureaucratic, unresponsive, outdated, and siloed. Speaking with professionals who work with children, and to children and families themselves, the Commission has heard about young people who have barely returned to school since Covid, the increase in the regularity and extreme nature of many young people’s mental health problems, and how self-harm and suicide attempts are a much more regular feature of school and college life.

It highlights how the Covid pandemic was a disaster for the mental health of many children. There was a 47 per cent increase in the number of new emergency referrals to crisis care teams in under-18-year-olds between December 2019 and April 2021.

One in six children aged 6-16 were identified as having a probable mental health problem in July 2021, up from one in nine in 2017.

Mental health services are failing to meet the needs of children in crisis with only 23 per cent of referrals starting treatment within the four week target window. Additionally the report acknowledges the negative perceptions that many children, particularly from marginalised groups have of mental health services, because they have had previously bad experiences of other statutory services. Clinical models devised to help young people often feel outdated, uncomfortable, and overly medicalised to children themselves.

Alongside the headline recommendation, that the next Prime Minister commits to funding an immediate £1bn children and young people’s mental health wellbeing recovery programme; the report also calls for a national ‘Programmes on Prescription’ scheme in every area. This would mean the roll out of a major funded programme of social prescribing for mental health wellbeing that enables GPs and health professionals to pay for sports and arts sessions, music, drama, activities, youth clubs, outings, and volunteering programmes to improve young people’s confidence, self-esteem, and skills and make friends.

View the full story and report here.

The Commission on Young Lives is a major independent commission to evidence and design a new national system to prevent crisis in vulnerable young people and support them to succeed in life. It launched in September 2021 and is chaired by Anne Longfield CBE, the former Children’s Commissioner for England, and hosted by the Oasis Charitable Trust, who have decades of experience of working in and with communities, empowering families and vulnerable children.

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