Speaking at the Early Intervention Foundation conference in London [12 February], Morgan highlighted the increasing prevalence of mental health issues she has found on recent school visits.
"Intervening early, rather than just reacting when problems are already getting worse is, put simply, the best way to prevent the serious personal, societal, and financial costs that poor mental health can cause," she said.
"Investing money into this area really is spending to save in the long run. Because at least 1 in 4 of the population experiences mental health problems at some point in their life.
"Over half of adults who suffer with mental health problems found that their problems started by age 14, and three-quarters by their mid-twenties. In other words, that’s millions of lives affected by problems that, if caught and addressed in childhood, could have been tackled."
As well as coming in the run up to national elections, Morgan's first speech on children’s mental health comes at a time when child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) are reporting that referrals from GPs have gone up sharply in the past two years. By contrast spending on CAMHS has been cut every year since then coalition came to power.
Mental health support in the community
However, Morgan says the government's longer-term aspirations for changes to children’s mental health services will only be fully effective if they’re made to a system in which all those who work with children and young people have the right knowledge of mental health, and make the right links to specialists, when needed.
She added: "We know it’s often teachers that first spot when something is wrong, and that’s why we have published guidance for schools on behaviour and mental health, including further information on mental health difficulties and useful identification tools.
"We’ve also funded the PSHE Association to produce guidance on teaching mental health - due to be published next month - with example lesson plans to follow. And we will be publishing a strategy looking at counselling services based in schools. It aims to provide schools with practical evidence-based advice informed by experts on how to ensure counselling they offer is high quality and achieves good outcomes.
"At the same time, I want to recognise and applaud the voluntary and community sector organisations that already play a huge role in supporting schools and providing good counselling. They quite rightly take their cues from children and young people themselves, and they’re especially skilled at building trust and providing help in an inclusive and non-stigmatising way. Their support extends into the local community, too. That’s absolutely vital."
Morgan further announced funding for 6 successful projects as part of the innovation programme, including some that tackle some of the most challenging mental health problems experienced by young people in, or on the edge of care.
Read the speech in full at www.gov.uk/government/speeches/nicky-morgan-speaks-at-early-intervention-foundation-conference