It’s Never Too Early: Policy Implications From Early Intervention in Youth Mental Health

Two pieces of news may have escaped your attention in recent months: the first was that in the post-Brexit cabinet re-organisations, the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, picked up the responsibility for mental health, which had previously been separated from the health portfolio. This resulted in barely a mention in the mainstream media and has not resulted in any perceptible changes in policy… yet.

The second piece of news was last week, and featured prominently in the Health Services Journal, but to my surprise seemed to make very little impact in the national news. Jeremy Hunt described children’s mental health services as “the biggest single area of weakness in NHS provision at present”. When you stop to consider the breadth and depth of challenges facing the NHS at present, to single out this oft overlooked area so starkly came as a surprise, albeit a welcome one.

Of course, bold statements are one thing and actions another, but there seemed to already be early seeds of policy initiatives creeping in to the detail of the statement, along with the suggestion that this was a particular area of concern for the Prime Minister Theresa May. The statement highlighted the need for early intervention for children with mental health problems and suggested closer working between Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and schools, as well as the challenges that exist within the 16-24 year old age group and the need to address this gap in service for particular conditions. Interestingly, some of these issues have also been brought to the fore in policy documents issued by the Clinton Presidential campaign in the United States.

All this bodes well for the Youth Mental Health theme of CLAHRC West Midlands. CLAHRC researchers though both this CLAHRC and the previous incarnation of CLAHRC Birmingham and Black Country have worked on a variety of projects whose research could help provide an evidence base for policy formulation. These include the redesign of youth mental health services to improve access; early intervention in first episode psychosis; the impact of schools on mental health (see also youthspace.me), and interventions within the 0-25 age range.

Professor Max Birchwood, Theme lead for the Youth Mental Health theme commented “It’s great to see this important area of health receiving national attention and mirroring many elements of the research undertaken by CLAHRC BBC and now CLAHRC WM. We look forward to playing an active role in contributing to the discussion and helping to shape future guidance and policy in this area”.

— Paul Bird, CLAHRC WM Head of Programme Delivery (Engagement)

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