MENTAL HEALTH CAMPAIGN: `Army of Therapists' to Tackle Huge Rise in Child Depression, Self-Harm and Suicide

By Goodchild, Sophie | The Independent on Sunday (London, England), September 12, 2004 | Go to article overview
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MENTAL HEALTH CAMPAIGN: `Army of Therapists' to Tackle Huge Rise in Child Depression, Self-Harm and Suicide


Goodchild, Sophie, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)


Ministers are to unveil a series of measures this week designed to counter a growing crisis of childhood depression, self-harm and teenage suicide.

John Reid, the Secretary of State for Health, is expected to announce an increase in the number of specialist clinics for teenagers and children - particularly those at risk of killing themselves - and a better regime of training for doctors.

Thousands of children are thought to be at risk of turning into disturbed adults unless urgent action is taken to improve child psychiatric services.

The suicide rate is now three times higher than it was 20 years ago among schoolchildren, with children as young as five being treated for self- harming.

A report published by the Mental Health Foundation revealed that as many as 24,000 teenagers a year - the majority girls - seek help for injuries inflicted during bouts of self-harm but many more do not seek professional help. The main causes of rising rates of self- harm among children and teenagers in the UK - believed to be the highest in Europe - are bullying, exam stress, an abusive parent or bereavement.

Parentline Plus, a support helpline for parents, says that 10 per cent of callers reported their children were having suicidal thoughts and 6 per cent said their children had attempted suicide.

For the past decade, child mental health groups such as Young Minds have complained about a decline in facilities for adolescents at risk, despite increased demand. A number of specialist schools and hospital clinics have been closed.

Last week, a teenage girl died after taking a drugs overdose with her best friend in what is understood to have been a suicide pact. Laura Rhodes, 13, died last weekend at her home in Neath, South Wales. Her best friend, Rebecca Ling, 14, whom she met over the internet, survived and was released from hospital last Wednesday.

The reforms aimed at young people at risk of suicide are expected to be included in the Government's National Service Framework for children, its 10-year strategy to improve children's health and welfare services, which will be published on Wednesday.

The Government has already announced a shake-up of child mental health services, including a country-wide audit of specialist children's services to identify gaps in treatment for conditions such as autism. The findings will be made public so that parents can have better access to treatment for their children.

Professor Louis Appleby, the Government's mental health tsar, said earlier this year that he wants to bring in an "army of therapists" and improve training for people who deal with children who are at risk. This includes recruiting them from abroad, from countries that have similar healthcare systems to Britain.

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