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Open letter to Government on young people's mental health during lockdown

19 May 2020

Together with over 30 organisations, we have written to the Government to tell them to limit the long-term impact of the pandemic on young people’s mental health.

Released Tuesday 19th May 2020

Dear Prime Minister,    

Covid-19: impact on children and young people’s mental health    

We are writing to you to ask that your Government takes urgent steps to reduce the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak on children and young people’s mental health – both now and in the future.  
The Covid-19 pandemic is the biggest health crisis for generations, and the measures that the Government has taken to limit the spread of the virus, including restrictions on movement and the closure of schools to most students, are necessary to save lives.   
However, the crisis is affecting many young people in ways that will risk long-term consequences for their mental health. One in eight children and young people already have a diagnosable mental health condition, and research suggests that the majority of those believe that the pressures created by the crisis are exacerbating their needs.  
Many others – including those who have experienced bereavement, abuse or domestic violence – are also likely to require additional support. The fear of becoming ill or seeing a loved one become ill, the loss of routines, the difficulties of social connection, the impact of loneliness, the disruption to education and the challenges of living in difficult or dangerous situations are creating additional pressure for young people across the country.  Young people who belong to groups that are already marginalised or disadvantaged may be particularly at risk.  

While mental health professionals deserve enormous credit for responding to the challenges the pandemic brings, many young people who were receiving some form of mental health treatment before the crisis are now receiving reduced support or no support at all. Other young people who would not previously have met the threshold for mental health support are likely to require it. Without preventative action, their needs are likely to escalate.    

With the restrictions on access to schools, universities and primary care, there is often uncertainty or reticence about how and when to access mental health support. In many cases, young people have also lost the coping mechanisms that could help them to manage their mental health.    When it is safe for restrictions to change, there needs to be a clear plan about how to grow and develop services, how to enable social re-integration and how to support groups who are disproportionately affected by the crisis.    

Before the pandemic, young people’s mental health was beginning to get the attention and resourcing it needs – but, despite improvements, services were often overstretched and 
inconsistent across the country. With demand likely to increase, we cannot afford to lose momentum.  
We welcome the steps that the Government has already taken to prioritise mental health, including a £5 million fund for organisations providing mental health support, and guidance for parents issued through Public Health England. However, this falls well short of meeting the scale of need. While many voluntary sector providers have been quick to adapt to the changing landscape – moving support online, and using innovative approaches to safe service delivery - there remain gaps in infrastructure and funding which threaten the long term sustainability of these efforts    

That is why your Government must take a clear and coordinated approach to tackling the impact of the pandemic on children and young people, launching a recovery plan that enables the growth and continuity of support as restrictions change.   
We are calling on your Government to: 

  • Offer immediate emergency funding to increase young people’s and families’ access to mental health support through youth organisations charities and helplines; and ensure that clear routes are available for young people to access NHS mental health services while restrictions are in place.    
  • Launch a national campaign to reach 10 million children and young people, and their families, to promote positive approaches for maintaining mental wellbeing, working alongside the voluntary sector to do so.
  • Deliver a wellbeing support package for schools, enabling them to prioritise wellbeing now and over the next academic year, and providing guidance and resources on how to manage transitions when it is safe for students to return to school.
  • Commit to introducing additional support for young people’s mental health as we move out of the pandemic to meet rising demand, including re-committing to the measures outlined in the NHS Long Term Plan in full and funding additional early intervention services.  
  • Launch a cross-government strategy for young people’s mental health, taking a ‘young people’s wellbeing in all policies’ approach to future policy-making and addressing inequalities that can contribute towards worse mental health  

We recognise the scale of the challenge that the Government is facing. However, by taking bold action now, you can reduce the impact of the pandemic and give hope to millions of children and young people across the country.    

Yours sincerely, 

Sarb Bajwa, Chief Executive, British Psychological Society  
Emma Thomas, Chief Executive, YoungMinds 
Professor Peter Fonagy, Chief Executive, The Anna Freud Centre 
Kate Fallon, General Secretary, Association of Educational Psychologists 
Natalie Bailey, Chair, British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy 
Javed Khan, CEO, Barnardo’s 
Dr Ruth Allen, CEO, British Association of Social Workers 
Andrew Radford, Chief Executive, BEAT 
Amanda Chetwynd-Cowieson, Chair of the Board of Trustees, 
British Youth Council Sarah Hughes, CEO, Centre for Mental Health  
Sir Norman Lamb, Chair, Children and Young People's Mental Health Coalition  
Kathy Evans, CEO, Children England 
Mark Russell, Chief Executive, The Children’s Society  
Angela Salt, CEO, Girlguiding Advocate Youth Panel, Girlguiding  
Katie Ghose, Chief Executive Officer, KIDS 
Hamish Elvidge, Chair, The Matthew Elvidge Trust 
Mark Rowland, Chief Executive, Mental Health Foundation 
Paul Farmer CBE, Chief Executive, Mind  
Chris Martin, Chief Executive, The Mix Anna Feuchtwang, Chief Executive, National Children's Bureau  
Paul Whiteman, General Secretary, NAHT 
Caroline Stevens, Chief Executive, The National Autistic Society 
Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary, National Education Union 
Leigh Middleton, Chief Executive, National Youth Agency 
Catherine Roche, Chief Executive, Place2Be 
Professor Russell Viner, President, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health Professor 
Wendy Burn, President, Royal College of Psychiatrists 
Duncan Stephenson, Deputy Chief Executive, Royal Society of Public Health 
Ruth Sutherland, CEO, Samaritans Schools Wellbeing Partnership 
Dr Rania Marandos, Chief Executive, Step up to Serve 
Ndidi Okezie, CEO, UK Youth  
Barry Williams, Chief Executive,Youth Access 


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