Mental health crisis: School children attempting ‘real serious harm’

School children are attempting “real serious harm” , councillors have claimed in sobering accounts of a mental health crisis in Essex.

Calls were also shot down in an Essex County Council meeting yesterday for more money to improve mental health services.

It comes after the full council heard on Tuesday May 10 evidence detailing one school that had seen two students in just the last two weeks attempting serious harm.

The motion, if passed, would have formalised that the authority call on the Government to increase funding to local government and health services for young people’s issues.

It would have also asked cabinet to review available budgets and wherever possible to redistribute funds to provide the support needed.

But the motion that was carried with a Tory majority meant the issue would be referred to relevant cabinet members as well as to the Scrutiny Board for a joint review.

The issue was raised at the same time the Government set out it plans for reform mental health services through the draft Mental Health Act Reform Bill in the Queen’s Speech.

This is a sobering situation’

Non-aligned member Councillor Martin Foley (Residents for Uttlesford, Thaxted) who proposed the original motion said: “I wrote that one of the secondary schools in my area had a increasing level and rate of mental health problems and illnesses to a level that takes them beyond safeguarding concerns.

“This school is not the largest in my area and yet has 270 safeguarding concerns of which more relate to mental health than any other issue.

“The last couple of weeks two students had attempted real serious harm and I’d rather use that than another word.

“And some of these attempts had been made on the school grounds. The school has said it not if a young person will do more harm but when.

“This is a sobering situation.

“The local counselling service staffed by volunteers have had to reduce the scope of the referrals to manage numbers.

“They tell me there has been a tremendous increase in referrals which have steadily increased since September.”

However, Councillor Tony Ball, Essex County Council’s Cabinet Member for Education Excellence, Skills and Training, said detailed scrutiny needed to happen to ensure resources were properly used.

He said: “Just to throw money at the issue and blame the government will not and never has solved a problem.

“We need to understand all the work that is going on and the positive impacts this having on our young people but recognising the pressure that is increasing on the services.

“I believe we as a council need to take ownership of the issues that affect our residents the most and scrutiny working with cabinet members and officers if we want scrutiny to work properly.

“This is the ideal opportunity for us to gather the evidence that is needed and what what we can do in the future to change those statistics

“This is not going to be done in a few months.”

Council has a duty of care’

However, that sparked an angry response from Councillor Marie Goldman, (Lib Dem Chelmsford Central) who said that the “life and death” situation facing young people needed to be addressed with hard cash.

She added: “This is literally a life and death situation and this is not a just a life and death situation for anyone. This is our children , our grandchildren and if that is not something we should be throwing money at I don’t know what is.

“This council has a duty of care and we have to do something about it.”

Leader of the Lib Dem group Councillor Mike Mackrory (Springfield) said: “We must act on these vital issues to support our residents in Essex. The Conservatives cannot neglect our mental and physical health any longer. Sadly, they refused to call on their Westminster colleagues to provide more funding for mental health services and resources.’’

National research has shown that most GPs are working beyond their competence in dealing with mental health issues and are struggling to secure help, including for suicidal children, a new poll suggests.

The survey from Pulse, which specialises in primary care reporting, found around 38 per cent of GP consultations now have a mental health element, compared with 25 per cent pre-Covid.

Seven in 10 GPs said they were working beyond their competence in dealing with children’s mental health issues, while 63 per cent said the same for adults. Many were battling to get children seen by specialist Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), with one GP based in south-east London saying: “I have not had a CAMHS referral accepted for at least the past two years – all rejected as ‘not actively suicidal, discharged to GP’.”

Some 69 per cent of GPs were diagnosing children and adolescents with mental health issues and 66 per cent were dealing with suicidal thoughts in children.

Separately, in a new opinion poll commissioned by BBC Bitesize and Netmums, almost one in two parents say their child expressed feelings of loneliness as a result of the pandemic.

The poll of over 2,000 parents of primary-aged school children across the UK explored parents’ attitudes to, and experience of, mental health issues among their children.

Three quarters of those asked said that since the pandemic their child’s mental health has become a greater priority.

Cllr David Fothergill, chair of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Board, said after the Queen’s Speech: “Councils play a significant role in delivering the Mental Health Act, both in terms of their statutory duties of assessment, and also supporting treatment and recovery. The new Act must recognise the crucial part councils play as local leaders.

“The LGA supports the reforms to the Mental Health Act, particularly the objective to give people a stronger say in their treatment and the intention to address rising rates of detention of people from ethnic minority backgrounds.

“However, mental health and social care have faced serious strain and underfunding for several years, leading to severely impacted services and a high level of unmet and under met need. Mental health needs are also expected to rise significantly because of the impact of the pandemic.

“To ensure effective implementation, all reforms need to be fully costed and resourced. Councils’ mental health services must be adequately funded so they can continue to invest in support to meet existing, new and unmet demand.”


Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter