NCPS | A Plea for Accessibility: The Crucial Role of Counselling in…

The recently reported increase in children and young people seeking mental health support from NHS is further confirmation of what we already know; that services are struggling to cope, and that we need immediate and decisive action. A record 1.4 million children and young people have turned to the NHS for assistance in dealing with mental health issues last year, reflecting a sharp 76% rise since 2019. However, this escalating crisis in our nation's mental health landscape highlights a critical necessity: the need for accessible mental health support for every child.

As the NHS grapples with a deluge of referrals for anxiety, depression, and other mental health needs, the urgency to acknowledge and leverage the role of counselling and psychotherapy becomes more pronounced. Currently, counselling and psychotherapy are underrepresented and undervalued within the NHS, in favour of low-intensity support such as CBT or psychological wellbeing interventions. These are not robust enough, nor are they considered an effective intervention, for children and young people who are dealing with issues such as moderate anxiety, depression, self-harm, trauma, eating disorders etc. Counselling and psychotherapy are perfectly positioned to support children and young people with these issues, addressing the 'missing middle' - those struggling too much for low-intensity support, but not enough (yet) for CAMHS.

There is a significant issue with long wait times, which can stretch up to two years in some regions, and anecdotally the NCPS have been informed that some children and young people can be waiting up to four years. This clearly shows that our current systems are struggling to cope. Counselling and psychotherapy, often seen as services only available to those who can afford to pay privately, should be viewed as an integral part of the solution to this crisis. They have demonstrated efficacy in providing effective support for children and young people facing mental health difficulties, encouraging emotional resilience, and fostering healthy coping mechanisms.

With a workforce of over 60,000 qualified, insured, supervised and ethically-bound practitioners across the UK, we have the ability to drastically cut waiting times and ensure that the right help goes to those who need it, when they need it.

The integration of counselling and psychotherapy in various settings, such as schools and primary care spaces, with the option for remote therapy for those that need it, would provide comprehensive support to our children and young people. This would ensure that they're seen, heard, and understood, directly confronting some of the primary drivers of emotional and mental health issues, as well as allowing a therapeutic space to explore and address other areas of their lives. By weaving these services into the fabric of both our educational and healthcare systems, and ensuring their availability remotely, we not only enhance their reach but their efficacy, and the likelihood that children and young people will feel safe and able to access these services.

Our Access to Counselling For Every Child campaign underscores the necessity of early intervention to prevent potential long-term mental health repercussions, and emphasises that every child, irrespective of their personal circumstances, should have a right to mental health support. This includes the provision of counselling and psychotherapy, delivered in a variety of settings, and through platforms that facilitate continuity of care and allow for the building of trusted relationships.
The government's pledge of an additional £2.3bn a year for overall mental health services by 2024 is a positive step. However, in order to improve mental health services effectively, they need to make sure that there is a workforce available to meet the demand, and that they are able to provide appropriate support and interventions at a level that is needed. By drawing on the vast counselling and psychotherapy workforce they would almost instantly alleviate the strain on NHS resources, both in the short and long-terms, and ensure more young people get the help they need in a timely manner.

In the face of unique challenges stemming from the pandemic, the cost of living crisis, and academic pressures, counselling and psychotherapy offer young individuals the tools to manage their mental health proactively. This not only bolsters their immediate wellbeing, but also equips them with skills to navigate future hardships, creating a generation that is more resilient in the face of adversity.

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