Children to be offered talking therapies in mental health review

Mental health strategy to pledge £400m to extend therapies to adults across England and help prevent children developing illnesses

Children and teenagers who show signs of anxiety and depression are to be offered talking therapies in a major overhaul of mental healthcare for young people that will aim to stop them developing lifetime illnesses.

Introduction of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and other psychological therapies for children will be announced tomorrow in a new mental health strategy for England being published by the coalition government.

The move follows a five-year investment programme that has seen short-term psychological therapies developed for adults across 60% of the country. More than 70,000 people are said to have "recovered" from illness and 14,000 have moved off sick pay and benefits.

The new strategy will earmark £400m for extending the adult programme across England by 2015 and for developing an equivalent treatment model for children.

Mental health problems are estimated to be costing the economy up to £105bn a year in England alone. Some 43% of the 2.6 million people claiming long-term disability benefits have a mental or behavioural disorder as their primary condition.

Research suggests that half of all people who develop a lifetime mental health problem start to experience symptoms by age 14, with more than one in 10 teenagers aged 15 or 16 having self-harmed.

The strategy, to be launched by deputy prime minister Nick Clegg and care services minister Paul Burstow, will set out a cross-government approach to improving mental health and wellbeing, focusing on early intervention when psychological problems first appear.

Under the adult treatment programme, people receive a short course of therapy, usually CBT, intended to help them deal with personal problems that feel overwhelming. A workforce of 3,600 therapists has been recruited specifically for the task.

The planned model for children, which will be piloted, will deal similarly with mild-to-moderate anxiety and depression, but is likely also to cover conduct disorder and disruptive behaviour.

In Bury, Greater Manchester, where the adult programme pilot uniquely focused on children, the outcome measure has been young people's social inclusion, including keeping them in school and helping them gain better qualifications.

Burstow said: "We are going to look at how we can re-engineer child and adolescent mental health services to provide talking therapies for children. We will be taking a lot of learning from the talking therapies for working-age adults and seeing how that can be used to inform the development of an age-appropriate model for children."

Children and teenagers themselves would be involved "to a significant extent" in designing the treatment model, Burstow said.

The placement of children at the heart of the mental health strategy was welcomed by Young Minds, the mental health and wellbeing charity for children and teenagers.

Lucie Russell, the charity's campaigns director, said: "Evidence demonstrates that intervening early is crucial. It's also important that a range of psychological therapies are available, tailored to the needs of each individual, and that these are delivered by the NHS as well as through local authority support services and voluntary organisations."

It is unclear how much of the £400m being earmarked for psychological therapies as a whole will be allocated to the children's initiative, but it seems unlikely that much funding will be available for recruiting further staff as opposed to retraining existing workers.

There will also be concern that the £400m, which is coming from existing allocations for NHS primary care trusts, may not find its way to the intended schemes. Ministers are not ringfencing the cash and other mental health services are under growing pressure, with hundreds of hospital beds threatened with closure.

Burstow said that two cabinet sub-committees would be overseeing implementation of the strategy and there would be a central team of officials providing the "necessary grip" on developments and expenditure.

"We are very confident that we will ensure that this £400m gets into investment in [psychological therapies] that we are wanting to happen," the minister said.


David Brindle

The GuardianTramp

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