The growing, pandemic driven, mental health crisis…
Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the honour to visit some of the incredible schools, charities, and housing associations across our constituency. All highlighted the rapid rise in demand for mental health services as the long-term impact of the pandemic is beginning to be seen.
Twickenham’s Purple Elephant Project is dedicated to supporting children and their families affected by bereavement, abuse, anxiety and confidence issues. Jenny Haylock, Founder and CEO, explained how school closures, plus isolation caused by the lockdowns, have impacted children and increased anxiety-related mental health problems. Through specialist therapeutic services, including play therapy and art therapy, they provide a safe way for children to explore their thoughts and emotions, often too difficult to express in words.
Some headteachers in local schools have reported an increase in safeguarding concerns. Conversations with teenagers show me that anxiety and loneliness are having a significant impact on their wellbeing. Figures show as many as one in four children and young people have self-harmed in the past year.
Staff at the Look Ahead supported living centre in Teddington told me how they had increased their care in the community support capacity during the pandemic by nearly 50%. Despite extra staff, the service is already running at full capacity.
Since I was elected in December 2019 I have been shocked by the number of parents contacting me at their wits’ end because their children were struggling with serious mental health concerns, yet waiting many months to access treatment.
This is why I made it my priority to campaign for better funding and access to mental health services. Early intervention, at school and through community facilities is absolutely key. Everything I have learnt during these recent visits, points to an ever-growing crisis which is already stretching services. Local NHS leaders are regularly flagging to me that children’s mental health crisis beds are at capacity.
As early as April 2020, at the beginning of the first lockdown, I wrote to the Heath Secretary, with the support of the Mental Health Foundation and Young Minds, urging the government to increase funding for our mental health charities to reduce the pressure on the NHS. I’ve also called for a ringfenced resilience fund for schools, to sit alongside catch-up funding.
This month I led a debate in Parliament focused on children’s mental health and continue to fight for the funding required to deliver this vital work.
Munira Wilson, MP for Twickenham