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LGA: Make school-based counselling available to all children to tackle rising child mental health issues

School-based counselling needs to be available and fully funded by the Government in all state funded secondary schools and academies to help support rising numbers of children and young people reporting mental health issues during COVID-19, the Local Government Association urges today.

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The number of young people in contact with mental health services in England increased by nearly a third (29 per cent) to 305,802 in February 2021, from 237,088 in March 2020, according to latest figures, while it is estimated that 1.5 million children and young people will need support for their mental health as a direct result of the pandemic over the next three to five years.

The LGA, which represents councils in England and Wales, says the Government should use the Spending Review to invest at least £100 million per year into rolling out school-based counselling to all state funded secondary schools and academies, which would ensure access to a school counsellor for at least two days a week for more than 90 per cent of schools. This would complement the existing roll-out of mental health support teams in schools.

Three-quarters of mental health problems first emerge before the age of 24, so it makes sense economically to invest in mental health support for young people, as well as making a huge difference to people’s lives. 

Furthermore, there is increasing evidence of the impact of investing in prevention measures to tackle mental illness, with some estimated to generate savings in public expenditure of nearly £3 for every pound spent. The LGA says that prevention activity work, such as making school-based counselling available to all children, would help reduce the estimated £119 billion annual cost of mental health problems in England.

During COVID-19, councils have worked with partners to quickly offer mental health support in different ways and respond to new needs that arose from the pandemic. The LGA says the Spending Review offers an opportunity to give greater recognition to the role of local government in supporting the NHS Long Term Plan’s mental health goals for people with severe and enduring mental health needs.

It is calling for sustainable funding for local government statutory and non-statutory mental health services to put them on an equal footing with NHS clinical mental health services, and to meet current, unmet and new demand in the community as a result of COVID-19.

The LGA is also urging government to invest £900 million in the public health grant to return it to its 2015/16 level in real terms.

Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, Chair of the LGA’s Children and Wellbeing Board, said:

“Supporting people’s mental health and wellbeing underpins all aspects of the COVID-19 recovery and there is clear and positive evidence that school-based counselling can really make a difference to young people and complement the whole school approach that is being developed.  

“With reports showing increasing numbers of young people seeking mental health support during the pandemic, it is crucial that early intervention and prevention services, such as school counselling where pupils may feel more able to confide in trusted professionals, are able to help children avoid reaching crisis point in the first place.

“Councils have a vital role in helping everyone with their mental health and wellbeing and preventing the need for long-term clinical support. The Spending Review is an opportunity to build on recent short-term funding, to ensure that local authorities have sufficient and sustainable funding to work with partners to help schoolchildren and the whole population to be mentally healthy, prevent the escalation to more costly clinical services and avoid delaying support.”

Notes to Editors

  1. NHS Confederation’s Mental Health Network analysis of young people in contact with mental health services in England.
  2. Three-quarters of mental health problems first emerge before the age of 24 – Centre for Mental Health
  3. Centre for Mental Health estimation of the annual cost of mental health problems in England.
  4. The Lancet reports a clear and positive evidence base that school-based counselling can really make a difference to young people and add value to existing arrangements.