We’ve grown used to the daily deluge of facts and figures around infection rates and hospital admissions over the last 10 months.
Amidst that data overload, research published by the NHS has incalculable long-term implications: the proportion of children with a mental health problem may have gone from one in nine before the pandemic to one in six by last autumn.
The mental health trust that my organisation supports has seen referrals for its child and adolescent services nearly double, rising from around 550 in February to around 1100 in November. Urgent referrals to the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust’s (SLaM’s) eating disorder service have risen five-fold.
Research suggests that young people have been more likely to experience the detrimental effects of lockdown, triggering a significant rise in depression and anxiety disorders.
The Trust’s clinical director for child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS), Dr Bruce Clark, warned recently:
“I think there is worse to come when the economic impact hits parents – as we saw after the 2008 financial crash. Children do not exist in a bubble. Mum and dad’s mental health will be impacted, as the financial impact takes its toll on them, and this will have a knock-on effect on the children.
“We cannot pretend the health service will solve this by doing more of the same. We need to accelerate investment to develop high-quality innovations to tackle this problem which will affect each person differently in the same way all cancers are treated differently.”
Which is where the Maudsley Charity comes in – together with our support for pioneering new children and young people’s mental health treatment and research centre.
Planning for the Pears Maudsley Centre for Children and Young People, a partnership with SLaM and King’s College London, started long before the pandemic started to rampage around the globe. Indeed, site work in south London is already underway.
However, the pandemic has underlined the need for a facility that will provide both a superb clinical environment for children and young people and see some of the world’s finest CAMHS clinicians and research teams working alongside each other.
Although around half of adult mental health problems emerge by the age of 14, investment in research and early interventions has historically been very low.
But we are entering a golden age of research and innovation in mental health that will – for the first time – allow us to prevent mental health problems just as we already prevent many people developing cancer or heart disease.
SLaM clinicians and researchers from King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience will work alongside each other. That fulfils Henry Maudsley’s original vision and will turbo-charge discovery and innovation, with innovations travelling from bench to bedside more quickly. Maudsley, a psychiatrist, believed we could transform our understanding and treatment of mental illness by bringing together clinicians, researchers and educators. Early in the 20th century, he drove fundraising for a hospital – rather than an asylum – where teaching and research could take place. That hospital is now the Maudsley.
Many of the Maudsley’s clinicians combine their clinical workload with ground-breaking research through the IoPPN. The new building will bring all that work on to one site. Clinicians and researchers will address the root causes of mental health problems in children and young people – including those sparked or exacerbated by the pandemic – and contribute to long-term solutions.
To reflect the communities we serve, our work will focus on communities that can face multiple disadvantages – including those from BAME (black and minority ethnic) communities.
We know change is possible – and in the face of the pandemic, change must happen.
To mark Children’s Mental Health Week, we launched our Change the Story awareness and fundraising campaign to give the public, companies and others the chance to join our philanthropic, NHS and Higher Education/research partners in supporting the construction of the new centre.
In this way, we will give children the opportunity to rewrite their own stories – stories with brighter beginnings and happier endings than appear possible in a particularly bleak and dark February.
Please find out more about our campaign at https://maudsleycharity.org/change-the-story/