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Young people seeking mental health support are facing ‘cluttered and confusing landscape’, committee finds

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Young people seeking mental health support are facing ‘cluttered and confusing landscape’, committee finds

A Scottish Parliament committee has found a “troubling picture” of mental health support for young people and says resources are needed in the long-term to deal with “a substantial gap” in the provision of mental health services.

The Public Petitions Committee has published a report that calls for more to be done to ensure that young people can access advice and support for their mental health.

The committee conducted an inquiry into mental health support for young people in Scotland after petition PE1627, which called for consultation with and consent from a parent or guardian before prescribing medication to treat mental ill health when a patient is aged under 18.

The petition was lodged by Annette McKenzie following the tragic death of her daughter, Britney, from an overdose of prescription medication.

While the committee found there was “limited support” for the primary action being called for in the petition, instead backing current guidance that asks GPs to encourage patients to speak to their families and seek support, MSPs were concerned by evidence that highlighted the experiences of young people seeking help for their mental health, particularly for the first time.

“Some young people explained that they felt cast aside by their GP, despite their obvious signs of distress. In some cases, the distress escalated to such a degree that in the absence of any support, they worryingly turned to self-harming and attempting suicide as a way of coping with their mental health,” the report said.

During its inquiry, the committee found that young people, and those supporting them, were often unaware of the availability of initial support services and as a result, it found young people were being “inappropriately referred” to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) “only to be rejected for not meeting NHS board criteria”.

Citing a 2018 audit of rejected CAMHS referrals, which found that 62 per cent of children and young people were unable to access CAMHS because they did not meet NHS board criteria, the committee said: “Much more needs to be done to help young people at an early stage to avoid their needs becoming critical.

“There will be occasions where, in seeking support, prescribed medication will be the most appropriate action. In these cases, it is essential that GPs ensure that patients are fully informed about the side effects of their medication and that their prescriptions are regularly reviewed,” the report said.

“GPs should also continue to encourage patients to speak to family and friends, if possible, to ensure that they have a support network around them.”

Further, due to the mental health implications from the COVID-19 pandemic, the committee said it was “of the view that more resources will be required in the longer term to deal with a likely increase in demand for mental health services for young people”.

While the committee welcomed the Scottish Government’s commitment to ensure every secondary school has access to counselling services, it warned that this alone would not address “the wide-ranging needs of young people” and it should be part of a larger package of measures.

It recommended, by the end of 2020, that authorities set out clear pathways to support for young people seeking help by the end of 2020; that there needed to be local ‘inventories’ of mental health services in each area so it is clear to professionals what support is available; and that work is undertaken to identify how to support parents and carers in accessing information about their children’s mental health, as well as signposting them to the right services.

The committee also called for a review of the provision of school counsellors, to ensure they were delivering their services effectively by early 2022, and for a review of personal and social education to become more relevant and empowering for young people by March 2021.

Further, teachers should be empowered to identify and support young people with their mental health, with mental health first aid training included in initial teacher education by the start of 2021/22, and the government should consider ways to help employers of young people “fulfil their duty of care when it comes to supporting their mental wellbeing”.

Convener Johann Lamont MSP said the committee had work a “troubling picture” during their inquiry.

“Though anyone can experience low mood, anxiety, or both, at some point in their life, when it comes to seeking support, young people often find themselves facing a cluttered and even confusing landscape, which too frequently does not provide the support needed,” she said.

“While the committee welcomes those measures announced by the Scottish Government to improve the situation, these are not enough to address the substantial gap that remains in the provision of mental health services, or to improve understanding of the help available.

“Therefore, we believe that the government should work urgently with authorities to ensure that not only is there sufficient provision available at the local level, but that this is clearly communicated and easily accessible, both for young people and those they are turning to for help.

“The need for this work will only be increased by COVID-19, and its consequent impact on young people’s mental health.”

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