1 in 6 school-aged children in the UK suffer from a mental health condition and suicide is the leading cause of death in 15-19-year-olds. With such staggering figures, how is children’s mental health legally protected and treated in the UK?
Several pieces of legislation relating to children’s mental health in the UK including:
- The Human Rights Act
- The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child
- The Children Act
- The Mental Health Act
- The Education Act
How does the current legislation support children’s mental health in the UK?
The current legislation around rights and mental health in the UK sets out that children should not be discriminated against due to a mental health condition nor should they suffer abuse (either mental abuse or physical abuse that can lead to mental health conditions in the future).
Existing legislation also ensures that relevant parties are responsible for all elements of a child’s welfare and that that official procedures are in place to assess and treat children with mental health conditions.
From September 2020, education around mental health was also made compulsory in schools.
Is the existing children’s mental health legislation enough?
Simply put, no. Despite all the laws that are there to protect and support children’s mental health we are seeing unprecedented levels of depression and anxiety in young people. And with something so difficult to police, discrimination and mental health stigma is still very much a concern.
We believe the problem with the current mental health legislation in the UK is that it mainly looks to support those who suffer from severe mental health conditions rather than protecting them from developing in the first place.
And due to high demand, children who require support don’t receive it quickly enough – many young people with life-threatening conditions can wait more than 100 days before receiving any form of treatment via CAMHS.
Everyone has mental health, just as everyone has physical health. Sometimes it’s worse and sometimes it’s better but it’s always there. The key to preventing severe conditions that require a child to go through long-term clinical treatment is to notice the signs early on, educate children about mental health and encourage them to seek support as soon as they notice a problem (as they are already encouraged to for physical problems).
What more can be done to improve children’s mental health in the UK?
Compulsory mental health education is a big step towards enabling children to seek support themselves – but this is only one part of the solution
Early intervention can not only reduce the impact of mental health on children in the long term, but by reducing the number of young people in need of intense clinical support it can enable professional services like CAMHS to provide fast and efficient support for those who need it.
As part of our #Headucation2025 campaign, we want to equip teachers across the UK with the skills needed to spot and support children with mental health conditions before they reach severe levels.
Spending as much time with children as they do, teachers are already expected to be more than an educator – they are expected to be a friend, guard, and behaviouralist while on school grounds.
So for them to take on additional responsibilities as a mental health first responder and ambassador to reduce stigma, they need training and support that will help them identify when action is needed.
This includes knowing the factors that put children at risk of developing poor mental health, the signs a child is struggling with mental health and resources to use when having conversations with children about mental health.
Despite musings from the government, there is currently no statutory mental health education for teachers which means that school leaders have to balance the cost of training with other needs within the schools.
We’re calling on individuals and owners to help us provide fully-funded mental health training for 151,000 teachers that will enable them to provide support to 2.5 million schoolchildren with mental health every year.
We need to do more to protect children’s mental health, help us achieve our goal.