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Youth mental health neglect a 'moral scandal and enormous economic mistake', says LSE report

More than half of teenagers and young people with mental health problems in the UK do not receive any clinical treatment, amounting to a ‘’moral scandal and enormous economic mistake,’’ according to a new LSE study.

The report, prepared by LSE’s Personal Social Services Research Unit (PSSRU), and funded by the NHS Confederation Mental Health Network, is the first of its kind to analyse the economic impact of youth mental health services in the UK.

It was released this week coinciding with Children’s Mental Health Week.

Around 75% of mental illness in adult life starts during adolescence, the report claims. About one in 10 children and young people have a diagnosed mental health problem. However, mental health conditions are very often missed in young people and spending cuts in services are not helping.

Researchers found that young people with untreated mental health issues have worse physical health, particularly as they are more likely to smoke, abuse alcohol and take drugs. They are also significantly more likely to be unemployed, on benefits, not involved in education or training and to have a criminal record. These wide-ranging consequences have a major economic impact on the UK, the authors say.

Recent UK government reports and policy initiatives, including the Children and Young People’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Task Force set up in 2014, have acknowledged deficiencies in mental health services offered to young people, but until now the economic aspects have not been investigated.

The report’s key findings are:

  • Approximately 1 in 10 children and young people have a diagnosed mental health problem;
  • 75% of mental illness in adult life (excluding dementia) starts during adolescence;
  • For young people aged 12-15 at baseline assessment, mental health-related costs over the following three years averaged £1778 per individual per year. 90% of this cost fell to the education sector;
  • Costs were highest for 12-15 year olds with hyperkinetic disorders (inattention, hyperactivity, impulsivity), averaging £2780 a year;
  • 27% of young people aged 16 to 25 with mental health issues were not in employment, education or training (NEET) compared to 16% of young people that age without mental health issues;
  • 27% of young people with mental health issues were on benefits compared to 14% of those without mental health issues;
  • Young people with mental health issues were eight times more likely to have contact with criminal justice services than young people without such issues;
  • 55% of young people aged 12 to 25 with a mental health issue were not receiving mental health services. For those young people aged 21 to 25 with a mental health issue, 64% were not receiving mental health services;
  • Even for those young people with a severe mental illness, 46% were not receiving mental health services;
  • Despite the already wide gaps in treatment, services for young people are being cut back. Recent evidence from Young Minds shows that two-thirds of Clinical Commissioning Groups and Local Authorities have either frozen or cut their budgets for child and adolescent mental health services.

Lead author of the report, Professor Martin Knapp, concludes: ”To neglect mental illness in young people is both a moral scandal and an enormous economic mistake.“

The report makes a series of recommendations:

  • Invest early to prevent or reduce the risk of mental health issues emerging during childhood and adolescence, for example though earlier and better recognition of maternal mental illness; anti-bullying efforts in schools; and better links to services that work with young people not in employment, education or training.
  • Earlier recognition, timely diagnosis and better response for those young people who do experience mental health issues.
  • Respond to mental health issues with evidence-based interventions that are widely available, flexible enough to adapt to individual circumstances, and appropriate for young people.
  • Remove barriers to access and to treatment-seeking by young people. Combating stigma must be part of this effort.
  • Reverse the downward trend in funding of child and adolescent mental health services in England.
  • Address difficulties in transition between Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and adult services.
  • Strive for better service co-ordination and integration: all relevant agencies – especially education, youth justice, health, social care, welfare benefits – should work together to agree priorities and take the necessary actions.
  • Collect better data on levels and patterns of spending and provision, and on individual and societal outcomes – across all relevant sectors; this would greatly assist implementation, monitoring and evaluation of mental health services for young people.

Professor Martin Knapp of LSE’s PSSRU, who led the research, said: ”Adolescence and young adulthood is a key developmental period in anyone’s life. Failing to recognise and respond to mental health issues experienced by young people can blight their whole lives. Neglect on the scale we see today is not only morally indefensible but also very costly”.

Notes

The report is available at www.pssru.ac.uk/publication-details.php?id=5160

For interviews contact Professor Martin Knapp at m.knapp@lse.ac.uk or 020 7955 6225 or Candy Gibson, LSE Press Office at c.gibson@lse.ac.uk or 0207 955 7440.

February 12, 2016

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