Big rise in children’s mental health problems in Suffolk

THE number of children being treated for mental health problems and learning disabilities across Suffolk has significantly increased since 2008, new figures reveal.

Referrals of five-year-olds increased by 28 per cent while 19 per cent more 15-year-olds were deemed to need treatment from the Suffolk Mental Health NHS Trust.

The total number of referred children increased from 1,735 to 1,822 between 2008-09 and 2009-10.

The latest figures – obtained under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 – come less than one year after schools in the county were told to improve their handling of children with mental health problems.

The Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal issued this warning after finding Suffolk County Council and the governing body of the east Suffolk secondary schools discriminated against a boy with a 'school phobia' on four separate claims.

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Graham Newman, Suffolk county council's portfolio holder for children, schools and young people's services, admitted the council's approach to children with mental health issues could be improved.

He said: 'I have to say it is an area we need to ramp up in. When I've been talking to head teachers, they often don't realise their pupils have been using the county's mental health services. Work needs to be done to make services more joined up.'

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Referral of three, six, nine, 12 and 13-year-olds to the Mental Health Partnership also increased between 2008-09 and 2009-10.

In addition, two babies were deemed to need its services between 2007-08 and 2009-10.

Paul Cathmoir, community modern matron within Suffolk Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust's child and adolescent mental health service, said the reasons for the increase in the referral rate were 'multi-faceted'.

However, he said the largest increases – in five and 15-year-olds – could be because these were typically times of transition. Speaking of five-year-olds, he said: 'This is the age at which most children start school, and the age at which schools and parents will have a better understanding of behavioural and emotional difficulties as significant.

'We have also seen an increase in referrals as people are better educated about ADHD and this is often more clearly observable when the young person fails to settle within a school setting.'

Mr Cathmoir said 15 was an age when children tend to be be under a lot of pressure because of exams. The national financial gloom could also be detrimental to youngsters' mental health, he added.

He said: 'Getting a job or a college course place becomes much more important in a down economy, with more pressure on young people's shoulders as they worry about what they are going to do and who they are going to be.'

Keith Anderson, who is on the national executive of teachers' trade union the NASUWT representing Suffolk, Essex, Berwick and Southend, agreed the downturn in the economy could be a contributing factor to poor mental health.

But the way schools, teachers and pupils are measured also does not help, he added.

'Our young people are being tested more than ever and as a result are under huge amounts of pressure,' he said. 'This pressure is also felt by teachers who have to think about league tables more and more.'

He added: 'There are real concerns over cuts as well and the possible loss of skilled individuals in schools will have an effect too. Teachers will have less support and I think this will affect pupils.'

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