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UK Government Green Paper Ignores Impact of Childhood Adversity on Mental Health

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UK Government Green Paper Ignores the Impact of Childhood Adversity and Social Deprivation on Mental Health

Psychologists for Social Change

On December 4th 2017 the UK Government released a Green paper entitled Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health Provision.

The paper was jointly submitted by the Rt Hon Justine Greening, MP Secretary of State for Education and the Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP Secretary of State for Health. There is a four month consultation period for the paper which closes on March 2nd 2018. The consultation documents can be found here. We urge everyone to respond.

No one is in disagreement that children, young people and their families are waiting too long for mental health support and we welcome all action on this issue. We also welcome the commitment by the government to make NHS mental health services better, quicker to access and to the overall philosophy of valuing mental health equally to physical health. Justine Greening, MP and Jeremy Hunt MP are right to be concerned that CYP receive the right support at the right time in their lives. It is important too that mental health service provision is prudent and preventative. We are also in support more access to mental health provision in schools for those who need it.

However, we believe this Green Paper is a huge diversion away from the real issues surrounding children, young people and families’ mental health. Rising income inequality and poverty, reducing social mobility and the growing number of people living in insecure, overcrowded housing are all problematic social issues associated with poorer mental health.1,2,3,4 Recent research highlights that overall 14 million people now live in poverty in the UK – over one in five of the population. This is made up of eight million working-age adults and four million children. 8 million live in families where at least one person is in work.

An increasing body of research identifies the long-term harms that can result from the chronic stress of such socially adverse experiences on children and young people. Evidence shows that these experiences lead to lifelong mental and physical health problems and intergenerational cycles of distress.5

Such rising social deprivation is a direct consequence of this government’s economic and social policy choices. The implementation of austerity policies has been a disaster for the mental health of the UK’s most disadvantaged families because of increasing social adversity.6 These impacts are not recognised in the Green Paper.7

Moreover, this Green Paper comes out at a time when the National Union of Teachers has been calling on the government to stop turning schools into ‘exam factories’, which affect the mental health of pupils. They call for a review of school ‘accountability’ measures which lead to repeated and unhelpful testing of pupils.8 For as long as this government does not agree to this review, it demonstrates its narrow understanding of how educational policies impact the mental health of pupils.

Therefore Psychologists for Social Change call on the new Secretary of State for Education Damian Hinds and Jeremy Hunt to broaden their ambition and take a public health and community psychology perspective on the mental health of children, young people and their families.

Therefore the UK government should work towards bringing an end to unnecessary austerity policies and so reversing the rise in childhood poverty, inequality and housing insecurity in order to prevent adverse childhood experiences.

We therefore recommend the Green paper be amended to ensure:

1. Accurately reflect the evidence base for socially adverse childhood experiences in mental health provision. For example, prioritising more community based interventions for the prevention and early identification of trauma and emotional harm. It is therefore imperative robust health-equity impact assessments on all new policies to determine the consequences to the mental health of families, children and young people are carried out.9 This should be carried out at all levels from central governments down to local areas.

2. That all mental health provision should draw on the principle of co-production. Young people who use services, parents, schools, youth workers, health, voluntary sector, and residential care staff should be involved in the design and delivery of psychological interventions. Most schools already have arrangements like School Councils and these can be built upon in developing psychological service provision.

3. That a review of the current education system’s ‘accountability’ measures and their impact on pupils’ mental health, as recommended by the National Union of Teachers, is carried out. 

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