The MP for Twickenham is calling for new measures to support struggling young people during Children’s Mental Health Week.
Liberal Democrat MP Munira Wilson said that local secondary school headteachers she surveyed are seeing more children needing mental health support now than before the pandemic.
Richmond borough, where Wilson’s constituency is located, recorded the fourth-worst average mental wellbeing score for 15-year-olds and the highest rate of hospital admissions due to self-harm in 10-24-year-olds in London, according to the borough’s 2019-2021 Health and Care Plan.
Wilson said: “I have repeatedly heard from headteachers, parents, pupils and school staff in my constituency that mental health is the single biggest issue facing our young people.
“When we were in the darkest depths of the Covid-19 pandemic, we put the NHS on wartime footing to tackle what was an unprecedented and urgent health crisis.
“I want to see a similar sense of urgency applied to the crisis in children’s mental health.”
The MP, whose Private Members’ Bill concerning mental health provision for children is due for a second reading in the House of Commons, is asking for national measures: a dedicated mental health counsellor in every school, speeding up the rollout of mental health support teams in schools, community mental health hubs and a cross-departmental strategy on children’s mental health.
Martin O’Sullivan, Headteacher of Turing House School in Teddington, said: “The issues with young people’s mental health have never been so acute, and have become much more so over the past two years.
“Dealing with mental health issues post-lockdown has been our priority, but schools do not have the necessary resources to deal with the current challenges.”
Charities are also reporting difficulties in meeting the needs of struggling children.
Deborah Kerpner, manager of the counselling service Off the Record Twickenham, said: “The situation can only be described as ‘desperate’.
“We have so many high-risk young people coming through our door, and they all need support now – but our waiting list for regular sessions is up to six months.”
Richmond Council said: “Richmond Council’s Public Health team leads on several initiatives to support children and young people’s mental health in Richmond upon Thames.
“An example is a comprehensive mental health needs assessment in development which includes a specific focus on children and young people.
“Additionally, a comprehensive Health Related Behaviour Questionnaire will be rolled out across primary and secondary schools in the spring term to provide a detailed picture of pupil health and wellbeing to inform the development of initiatives to improve outcomes.”
Richmond Council developed a Suicide and Self-Harm Prevention Strategy.
The Council also supports the Richmond upon Thames Voluntary Fund, which this year is fundraising for charities helping to look after children’s mental health, including Off the Record.
Councillor Robin Brown, a trustee of the fund, appealed to the public to donate in a comment piece.
Children’s Mental Health Week runs until 13 February.
Find south west London Health and Care Partnership’s Suicide Prevention Toolkit here.
Featured image credit: Office of Munira Wilson