Free online professional counselling service for children and teenagers with mental health problems is launched

BMJ 2013; 347 doi: (Published 09 July 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f4420
  1. Matthew Limb
  1. 1London

A new UK charity has launched an initiative to help children and teenagers with mental health problems, warning that “appalling” service cutbacks are depriving them of adequate support.

MindFull said that 11-17 year olds would be able to receive free online professional counselling, self help advice, and support in schools from trained peer mentors.

It said that an estimated 850 000 young people had a diagnosable mental health problem, equal to three children in every classroom, but almost 75% received no treatment.

One in five children, MindFull said, had had symptoms of depression, and almost a third of all children (32%) had thought about or attempted suicide before they were 16.

The new programme, which is part of the Beat Bullying (BB) group of charities, is designed to help young people at an early stage to talk about their concerns, including many who may not have had any contact with mental health or wellbeing services before.

Emma-Jane Cross, BB Group chief executive, said that many children and young people were “frightened” and “confused” because they had no one to turn to to talk about symptoms such as depression and anxiety, which could increase the risk of developing long term illness.

She claimed that up to half of all adult mental problems were preventable by intervention in childhood or adolescence.

Cross said: “We need a seismic shift in our collective approach. Our failure to act now is creating a legacy of low educational achievement, poor employability rates, and decreasing levels of social interaction for the next generation.”

The charity published a report on 5 July titled “Alone with my thoughts,”1 which includes findings from a YouGov survey of over 2000 young people aged 16-25 who were asked to reflect on their experiences before they were 16.

Over half (52%) of those who had shown signs of depression as children felt let down by their experiences of mental health support.

The report said teams in the child and adolescent mental health services had had “significant” cuts since 2011.

It said that the NHS had been “over-reliant” on drugs as a primary treatment to manage symptoms of poor mental health. Furthermore, many of those needing long term intensive treatment came up against resource constraints and long waiting lists.

MindFull called for mental health to be “embedded” in schools as a core theme in the national curriculum.

Cross said that children and young people wanted to use social networking technology and choose the type of support they received, from a mixture of paid and volunteer counsellors and psychotherapists.

Tanya Byron, a chartered clinical psychologist and a BB Group patron, said that children and young people were manifesting greater levels of mental distress than ever before.

She said that it was “appalling” that many young people could not access the treatment they needed.

Byron also reported that she had been challenged over whether the initiative might “medicalise” the mental health concerns many children and young people faced. “That is absolutely not what we’re doing,” she said.

Judah Eastwood, a GP, said that many of those people waiting for specialist help could see their symptoms worsen.

Francis Burrow, MindFull director of operations, said that evaluation was an important part of the charity’s programme to “track the progression” of those who used online counselling and mentoring.

Labour leader Ed Milliband, supporting the launch, said that mental health issues had been “swept under the carpet” for too long by society as a whole, including the NHS. The launch was also supported by teenagers involved in the programme who spoke about their experiences.


Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f4420