Millions of school pupils now have access to specialist mental health support in the face of “record demand” for services, the NHS in England has said.
Mental health support teams are now in place in around 4,700 schools across the country offering support to children with anxiety, depression and other mental health issues.
The NHS in England said it was “fast-tracking” services in schools and colleges to keep up with soaring demand for care.
It is hoped that by getting to children earlier, health services can help prevent them from developing more serious mental health conditions.
The NHS in England said that some 2.4 million children and young people now have access to this specialist support in schools and colleges.
So far 287 teams have been established across England, with a further 112 teams in training who will start work next year.
Referrals to the teams can be made by teachers or GPs, or young people can even refer themselves.
Children are offered one-to-one and group therapy while helping to improve the whole school’s community awareness of mental health training sessions.
Claire Murdoch, the head of mental health care in England, said the services will provide a “lifeline for many young people who are struggling and need some help”.
“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 rollout of hundreds of mental health teams in schools and offer support to millions of pupils, a year ahead of schedule,” she added while visiting Richard Challoner School in Surrey.
“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.”
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A record 650,000 children and young people were in contact with NHS mental health services over the last year – up from 534,000 before the pandemic.
It comes as figures released by the Mental Health Foundation show that a quarter of people have felt lonely some, or all, of the time over the previous month.
But among some groups this figure is even higher, according to a UK-wide survey of adults conducted on behalf of the foundation.
People with long-term health conditions appear to be at higher risk of reporting loneliness, as do those who identify as LGBTQ or people from a black, Asian or minority ethnic background, it said.
Those who work in the charity or voluntary sectors, as well as full-time students, also appear to be more vulnerable to being lonely, as do single parents, according to the poll of 6,000 British adults.
Mark Rowland, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, said: “Current investment in public health in England does not give the right attention to mental health. Loneliness, which we know is a risk factor for poor mental health, can be addressed by looking at who is most affected and introducing preventative measures.
“The Government’s strategy for tackling loneliness needs to go further. Local authorities are best placed to work with those groups and communities most at risk of loneliness but councils are chronically underfunded.
“Covid-19 has highlighted and exacerbated health inequalities and it is shocking that the public health grant is almost a quarter lower than it was six years ago. Restoring funding levels should be a priority and local authorities should be empowered – with their knowledge of communities – to introduce measures to identify and support those most at risk of loneliness.”