Blog: We need to use the skills around us to support young people’s mental health

4 Aug 2017

Judge Sir James Munby has made some unprecedented comments on the state of young people’s mental health provision in the UK.

His comments came as he gave his verdict on ‘Girl X’, who is at risk of taking her own life if an NHS hospital bed cannot be found to provide her with an appropriate level of care.  She has repeatedly self harmed and attempted suicide and requires 24 hour care.

He said: “What this case demonstrates, as if further demonstration is still required of what is a well-known scandal, is the disgraceful and utterly shaming lack of proper provision in this country of the clinical, residential and other support services so desperately needed by the increasing numbers of children and young people afflicted with the same kind of difficulties as X is burdened with. The lack of proper provision is an outrage.”

“If this is the best we can do for X, and others in similar crisis, what right do we, what right do the system, our society and indeed the state itself, have to call ourselves civilised? The honest answer to this question should make us all feel ashamed.”

Munby copied his verdict to the Education Secretary, Health Secretary and Home Secretary.

His words are strong and, commendably, he’s trying to shame politicians into taking action and start a proper discussion about the unmet need and the affect it has on young people’s lives. Suicide is now the leading cause of death in young people.

His graphic language (‘we will have blood on our hands’) may serve as a wake up call to the state of children’s and adolescent mental health services and the dire shortage of provision. I hope it does. But we also need to see CAMHS as an opportunity to tackle lower level mental distress before it escalates into a more significant lifelong problem.

In order that ‘Girl X’ and others can be provided with the level of care they desperately need, we need a greater focus on keeping young people mentally healthy.

Youth workers can provide support to young people to help alleviate mental distress, sign post on those in need of greater intervention, and reduce the burden on CAMHS. With resources so stretched we need to make much more of these opportunities to prevent young people getting to such extreme conditions. We urgently need to get better at promoting positive mental health and focus the skills at our disposal to improve it.