Pupils feel they need to risk their lives to get mental health treatment, warns children's commissioner

21st November 2017 at 16:44
Anne Longfield says she visited a school that had experienced 'five occasions of either attempted or threatened suicide in this year alone'

Pupils as young as 13 feel they need to attempt suicide to access child and adolescent mental health services (Camhs) – and schools are dealing with rising numbers of suicidal pupils, the children's commissioner has said.

Her comments come after Tes revealed in June that children were risking their lives in a desperate bid to get help because thresholds to access Camhs have become so high. 

Today, Anne Longfield said that "children with life-threatening conditions... just aren't getting the support they need", and called for funding to be ring-fenced to ensure that money gets to frontline services.

Ms Longfield was giving evidence to the House of Commons Health Select Committee, which is conducting an inquiry into Camhs.

Asked about suicide involving young people, she said: “Visiting a school quite recently, they told me that actually they had had five occasions of either attempted or threatened suicide in this year alone, and that was something that they would never have had five or six years ago."

Ms Longfield said she was "really shocked", after she was appointed children's commissioner, "when 13-year-olds told me that they understood that feeling suicidal wouldn’t get them treatment".

Instead, the young people thought that "having to have attempted suicide" was what "they would need to do to get treatment", she said. 

"In my slight naivety, I thought that was quite shocking, but as I asked others it seemed to be the norm…There are a number of children with life-threatening conditions that just aren’t getting the support they need.”

Children 'want mental health support at school'

Ms Longfield said that extra money for Camhs had to be ringfenced by the NHS to ensure it reached its intended recipients. 

“I think at the moment, where we don’t have ring-fencing, then there are many incentives for the money not to go to the frontline," she said.

"Clearly I’m aware of the worries about ring-fencing but for an issue which is absolutely such a high political priority – but also a high priority for young people at this point – I do think that ring-fencing for a period of time is a thing that is absolutely necessary.”

Ms Longfield also said children reported "high levels of self-harm" and talked about it as "being part of life".

“For me, [tackling] this is the perfect support that schools are ready and able to help with if they can get back-up," she said.

"[Children] tell me that the place they would like to get help first and foremost is to talk to a trusted adult – probably around the school. Someone they could get to know, someone who had a specialist knowledge, but also someone who was there and accessible to them.

"That I think is a thing that schools are desperately keen to do but often struggling to do so with very limited budgets.”

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