Nurses, midwives and health visitors should be “instrumental” in local authority efforts to promote good mental health in children, says a new report for councils.
The Best Start In Life report, launched today at the Local Government Association’s annual conference in Bournemouth, stressed the importance of working with health professionals like school nurses.
“A substantial numbers of children and young people are increasingly struggling with mental health problems”
A series of “10 top tips” for local authorities, who now have responsibility for public health services for babies and young children as well as older children and teenagers, highlight the “key role” of midwives, health visitors and school nurses in promoting emotional health and wellbeing.
Meanwhile, councillors are urged to ensure these health professionals are “instrumental” in their local authority’s approach.
Councils should seek to work closely with health partners to create integrated services “to meet the needs of families in the most appropriate way”, said the report.
Tackling mental illness in children should begin before they are born with support for vulnerable expectant mothers, it stressed.
For example, Knowsley Council has been testing a scheme, supported by midwives and health visitors, to help mothers struggling with mental health problems, achieving “extremely positive results”.
Devised by a clinical psychologist, the Building Bonds programme includes group work and tailored psychotherapy support with 100% of participants reporting improvements in their mental health and maternal attachment.
The report also highlighted the importance of work with schoolchildren, with one in 10 aged five to 16 experiencing a diagnosable mental problem.
In Walsall, school nurses have worked alongside school staff to run courses for children with anxiety, low self-esteem and confidence issues.
Those taking part have reported improved confidence and wellbeing and nurses are now looking to build on the programme by running an anger management scheme, and a course specifically focused on children with autism.
Local Government Association portfolio holder for community wellbeing, Councillor Izzi Secombe, said children’s mental health was a priority issue for councils.
“What is deeply concerning is there are substantial numbers of children and young people who are increasingly struggling with mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression and self-harm, in addition to a minority who face potentially life-threatening conditions such as eating disorders and psychosis,” she said.
“But to understand the scale of the problem, you have to go back to before a child’s birth, with one in five mothers experiencing mental illness during pregnancy or in the first year, which can have a potentially devastating impact on a child if left untreated,” said Ms Secombe.
“This emphasises the need to intervene early, so we can help children and young people build and maintain good mental health which has lasting positive consequences throughout their lives, both inside and outside school,” she added.