In a report published today, the Public Petitions Committee has said that despite efforts to improve the provision of early intervention mental health services, more needs to be done to ensure that young people feeling low or anxious, or both, can access advice and support.
The Committee’s inquiry into mental health support for young people in Scotland was driven by petition PE1627, which called for consultation with, and consent from, a parent or guardian before prescribing medication to treat mental ill health if the patient is under 18 years of age. The petition was lodged by Annette McKenzie following the tragic death of her daughter, Britney, from an overdose of prescription medication.
While there was limited support for the primary action being called for in the petition, the Committee backed the current guidance, which asks GPs to encourage patients to speak to their families and seek support. MSPs were however concerned by the evidence heard highlighting serious concerns about the experiences of young people seeking help for their mental health, particularly for the first time. Some young people explained that they felt cast aside by their GP, despite their obvious signs of distress, and in some cases, the distress escalated to self-harming and attempting suicide.
During its inquiry, the Committee found that young people, and those supporting them, are often unaware of the availability of initial support services. As a result, young people are often inappropriately referred to specialist Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) only to be rejected for not meeting NHS board criteria.
While the Committee welcomed the Government’s commitment to ensure every secondary school has access to counselling services, it warned that this alone will not address the wide-ranging needs of young people. It can therefore only be part of a larger package of measures, complementing existing services and forms of support.
To achieve this, the Committee has made recommendations for the Scottish Government, COSLA, integration authorities and Education Scotland. These include:
• That authorities set out clear pathways to support for young people seeking help by the end of 2020.
• That there should be local ‘inventories’ of mental health services in each area so it is clear to professionals what support is available in each area. This work should be completed no later than by the end of 2020.
• That work is undertaken to identify how to support parents and carers in accessing information about their children’s mental health, as well as signposting them to the right services.
• That the provision of school counsellors is reviewed to ensure they are delivering their services most effectively; and that Personal and Social Education (PSE) becomes more relevant and empowering for young people.
The counsellor review should be reported to Parliament by early 2022, with the Government review of PSE due to be implemented in March 2021.
• That teachers are empowered to identify and support young people with their mental health. Mental health first aid training should be included in Initial Teacher Education by the start of academic year 2021/22.
• That the Government should consider ways to help employers of young people fulfil their duty of care when it comes to supporting their mental wellbeing.
The Committee also recognised the efforts and dedication of all those supporting young people, and hope that this work will allow young people themselves, as well as parents, carers, teachers, medical professionals, and others working with young people to feel able to find the right help.
Committee Convener Johann Lamont MSP, said:
“The Committee wants to recognise the work of Annette McKenzie, who has shown such courage in highlighting the concerns in her petition. She has done so in circumstances which no parent should ever have to face.
“During the Committee’s work on the inquiry, we have found a troubling picture.
“Though anyone can experience low mood, anxiety, or both, at some point in their life, when it comes to seeking support, young people often find themselves facing a cluttered and even confusing landscape, which too frequently does not provide the support needed.
“While the Committee welcomes those measures announced by the Scottish Government to improve the situation, these are not enough to address the substantial gap that remains in the provision of mental health services, or to improve understanding of the help available.
“Therefore, we believe that the Government should work urgently with authorities to ensure that not only is there sufficient provision available at the local level, but that this is clearly communicated and easily accessible, both for young people and those they are turning to for help.
“The need for this work will only be increased by COVID-19, and its consequent impact on young people’s mental health.”
PE1627: Consent for mental health treatment for people under 18 years of age was lodged on 21 December 2016. More information can be found online by clicking here.