A fleet of vintage double-decker buses hit the roads of North Tyneside this week to launch ambitious plans to transform mental health support for young people in the borough over the next five years – including new specialist teams for schools that will benefit thousands of pupils.
The COVID-19 pandemic has seen an increase in demand and need for support for young people. However, there is currently a shortage in provision across the UK – with only one in three children and young people with a diagnosable mental health condition receiving NHS care or treatment.
North Tyneside Council, Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, North Tyneside Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), and children’s charity Barnardo’s have teamed up to create a step change in mental health support for young people.
The new Children and Young People’s Mental Health and Emotional Wellbeing Strategy sets out plans to ensure the right people are getting the right support at the right time – whether that is self-help advice to build resilience, easy access to early interventions, or further support from specialist services.
It builds on a long-term partnership between the Council, the CCG, and Barnardo’s that has already seen investment in innovative preventative and early help initiatives to improve emotional wellbeing.
Cllr Peter Earley, Cabinet Member for Children, Young People and Learning at North Tyneside Council, said: “Over the past few years there has been a growing understanding that looking after the mental health and emotional and wellbeing of children and young people is just as important as their physical health.
“Good mental health is fundamental to good physical health, self-esteem, self-image, self-reliance and enabling children and young people to achieve their potential.
“We want anyone who may be struggling to be able to ask for and get appropriate help and support when they need it. This help might be a reassuring conversation with a parent or teacher, through to online support or more specialist mental health input.
“This strategy has been developed together with our young people, who I know from conversations with them are very passionate about mental health.
“We know that there are many examples of great innovative work, services and projects happening across North Tyneside that support children and young people’s mental health and the new mental health support team for our schools is going to be a great addition to that.
“I’m confident that by all working together we will see more collaboration which will provide the best possible support for our children and young people.”
Suzie McKenzie, Young Mayor, North Tyneside Council, and a pupil at St Thomas More RC Academy, said: “Before the pandemic, a lot of young people I know struggled with mental health. Whether it was anxiety confused for being an ‘introvert’ or depression mixed up for ‘laziness’ or a ‘lack of motivation’.
“Mental health issues in young people have been an issue for a long time – it’s just been highlighted by the pandemic.
“Thankfully, even before COVID-19, there was a progression in supporting young people’s mental health. It was more accepted, young people felt more able to ask for help and overall, it became less of a ‘taboo’ topic to discuss.
“However, despite this progression, I felt more needed to be done and this is why I decided to make this my pledge: to create better support in schools for young people’s mental health and to ignite a change within these schools to overall improve the support for young people.”
As part of the plans, thousands of young people in the borough are set to benefit from more help looking after their mental health thanks to a new specialist support team for schools.
Funded by NHS England, Mental Health Support Teams (MHSTs) work with primary and secondary pupils who are experiencing emotional or wellbeing issues such as low-level anxiety, low mood, or friendship or behavioural difficulties.
Featuring the new role of an education mental health practitioner, the team includes two primary mental health workers and a team manager. It will initially support 8,000 pupils across 15 to 20 schools and colleges with plans to expand the service further next year.
Investing in early intervention will help to prevent more serious mental health issues in the future and continue to tackle taboos around mental health so that it is on a par with physical health.
This week, the team are travelling across the borough in three Routemaster buses and will be visiting schools and community venues to encourage young people, parents, and carers to talk about their experiences of mental health and to find out more about the support available.
Project lead, Jane Pickthall, Virtual School Head for Education, Mental Health and Emotional Wellbeing at North Tyneside Council, said: “We’ve been working with our schools for a long time and through our Barnardo’s Alliance and our School Improvement Service, we have been rolling out Mental Health First Aid across our schools so that teachers can recognise the signs of emotional wellbeing difficulties and know how best to help.
“The new Mental Health Support Teams will enhance what they are already providing along with more early intervention support and will help pupils and their families feel more confident about managing low mood, anxiety, and thoughts of self-harm.
“This a whole system approach to promoting emotional wellbeing. We want to build resilience in our children and young people and encourage people to help each other when they face challenges.”
Theresa Maddison, a nurse consultant in Northumbria Healthcare’s child and adolescent mental health service (CAMHS), said: “This is an important development which helps tackle a significant gap in provision, by supporting children and young people who need help with their mental health but do not meet the threshold for specialist care.
“This partnership approach will ensure that we continue to improve the quality of care available to young people in North Tyneside and it comes at a vital time on the back of lockdowns and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We know that a significant number of children and young people do have mental health difficulties, and this is a real opportunity to provide the right level of service provision at the right time targeting this support so that it meets the areas of biggest need.”
Janet Arris, Deputy Director and Mental Health Lead at NHS North Tyneside CCG, said: “There’s never been a more important time to support our young people.
“Listening to their issues has really highlighted the need for more to be done to support children and young people’s mental health. We know that accessible early intervention can make a significant difference to the lives of children and young people
“This new specialist support team in North Tyneside schools is both welcome and timely, we encourage both young people and their carers to come forward if they need help and support.”