THE SDLP’s Mark H Durkan has renewed calls for mandatory mental health and well-being education within both primary and secondary settings, following reports that the number of young people experiencing a mental health crisis has risen significantly over the course of the COVID pandemic.
Referrals via hospital emergency departments to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAHMS) has risen by 24% since 2019-2020.
Said the Foyle MLA: “These startling figures further underscores the desperate need for mandatory mental health and wellbeing training within our schools to ensure children are equipped with the essential skills to understand and recognise their emotions, to build resilience required to deal with the hardships life will inevitably bring.
“Access to this type of early intervention support is important and would prevent escalating numbers of children and young people reaching crisis point.
“It is heart-breaking to learn that so many children and their families are seeking mental health support at emergency departments, feeling they have nowhere else to turn.
“The events of the pandemic have no doubt impacted on these figures however, problems around the lack of children’s mental health support existed pre 2020.
“The Department of Health failed time and time again to implement the recommendations of several reports.”
Mr Durkan added: “Whilst I welcome ongoing multi-agency approach to mental health and well-being currently undertaken by the Department, Public Health Agency and EA – clearly it isn’t as comprehensive as it needs to be.
“I’m also cognisant that the Healthy Happy Minds pilot service, developed by the Department of Education to support therapeutic and counselling services in primary schools, is due to end next month.
“I’ve written to Minister McIlveen urging her to extend this provision beyond March 2022.
“These figures should be a wake-up call. No child should be facing a mental health crisis in the first place, they certainly shouldn’t be waiting in excess of nine weeks to access support.
“We need to do better.”