Opinion: ‘Mental health of young people so important’

Peterborough’s MP Paul Bristow writes his regular column for the Peterborough Telegraph...

Saturday, 20th November 2021, 2:15 pm
The Palace of Westminster, which houses the the House of Lords and the House of Commons in the Houses of Parliament. (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images)

I have given quite a few speeches in the House of Commons now. Although standing up among the green benches is a bit daunting at first, after almost two years, I have become used to it.

Last week, my speech was unlike any other that I have given: it wasn’t written by me, but some talented, passionate young people from Peterborough.

Darya Robson, Charlotte Hemens, Amelia Lawson, Austeya Dalansamskita and Amira Dinari provided me with quotes, statistics and testimonies.

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They did me proud – and Peterborough should be proud of them.

We are so lucky to have a whole group of young people from Peterborough’s schools who are ready to spare their time. Besides helping me, they are also working with the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Clinical Commissioning Group (or CCG, as it’s known for short).

Their input on mental health services for children and young people has been really important.

It should deliver a brand new system, with a single point of referral and a new website.

They didn’t need me for that.

When it came to the House of Commons debate on school-based counselling services, however, I was delighted to get the call.

What follows is more their work than mine and the better for it. I agree that we are facing a mental health crisis among our young people.

The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust had 1,625 urgent referrals in May 2021 alone, of which 795 were for potentially life-threatening conditions. Many were from our city.

Nationally, one in six children aged five to 19 have been identified as having a probable mental health disorder – up from one in nine before the pandemic.

Schools are places where every child should feel valued, cared for and accepted. Early intervention is also crucial. This makes schools the perfect place for students to access an on-site qualified counsellor.

Our current provision for mental health is not serving young people as it should. In 2019, more than half of GP referrals to child and adolescent mental health services in the UK were rejected. Apparently, their symptoms weren’t severe enough.

Other services are patchy and tend to focus on parental interventions. They are no substitute for qualified counselling.

School-based counselling provides an alternative for young people with nowhere else to turn. The young people I have been working with come from a range of schools and colleges. Some are fortunate enough to have access to a school-based counsellor; others are not.

No student should slip through the net or be fobbed off with unqualified trainees, who have to signpost them to outside organisations. As one told me: “Having a qualified counsellor would increase the attendance and engagement of students. More importantly, it would mean that students can get the support they need without having to reach a crisis point before any action is taken. It would mean that students felt safer and more willing to seek the help they need without feeling like a burden.”

The pandemic put enormous strain on our young people. I believe that we owe this to them.

The full reasons can be found printed in Hansard, the official journal of Parliament.

Yet I’m sure that readers will already be convinced – and quite right too. Our young people are amazing and it’s a genuine privilege to work with them.