‘System shift’ needed to improve support for young people who self-harm

Inquiry into the support available for young people who self-harm warns there must be less reliance on crisis interventions and a move to more preventative measures.

An All-Party Parliamentary Group inquiry, released this week, has found that there is ‘still much progress to be made’ for ‘earlier intervention and prevention’ in mental health support for young people.

The release of the findings from the inquiry comes as rates of self-harm are increasing among every age group and across genders. This increase has been more pronounced in young people and particularly young women.

The inquiry recommends that planned investment in NHS mental health support for young people should be increased and brought forward, and that investment should be targeted towards community-based preventative services, often delivered by the third sector.

The report was also critical of delays in young people receiving support, saying they should receiver support sooner rather than later, and before their mental health needs escalate and their self-harming behaviour becomes habitual.

Respondents told the inquiry that the current system of support should be flipped on its head: rather than providing specialist mental health support only once a young person reaches crisis point, the government should focus long-term investment in early intervention provided by wider community-based services, as well as alternative third sector support specifically for self-harm.

The inquiry also suggests this shift takes place alongside, and in addition to, investment into specialist mental health support – such as CAMHS and IAPT – in order to reduce waiting times, lower thresholds and increase specialist knowledge and support around self-harm.

Some recent policy developments were highlighted as effective, such as the introduction of Mental Health Support Teams (MHSTs). The inquiry found that at present, however, recent policy advancements are not consistently being translated into effective support ‘on the ground’.

The inquiry heard that while budgets for preventative interventions have been markedly reduced in recent years, demand for specialist NHS mental health services – such as CAMHS and IAPT – has increased exponentially, outstripping investment and exacerbating workforce issues.

This has led to longer waiting lists, higher thresholds and, in turn, more refused referrals of young people who self-harm.

The inquiry also learnt that problems in the delivery of mental health services are likely to be exacerbated by the pandemic, which began mid-way through the inquiry.

The inquiry also received evidence from professionals working on self-harm which expressed grave concern regarding the demand that is likely to be placed on the system post-lockdown.

Evidence received by the inquiry did, however, make clear that there is a lot of promising work going on around facilitated peer support, both online and in person – though more evidence is needed around how this can be undertaken most effectively and safely for a range of young people.

The report also recommended that the Department for Education should provide schools and colleges with increased mental health resource sooner to roll out Mental Health Support Teams more widely so that they are able to undertake preventative interventions around self-harm more consistently.

You can read the inquiry’s findings and full recommendations at https://www.samaritans.org/appg/

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