A shortfall in mental health research funding is leaving a generation of young people without effective care and is holding back efforts to tackle mental illnesses, according to a report.
New figures from mental health research charity MQ show that while mental health funding lags behind other conditions, only a fraction of what is does have is given over to studying mental illness in children and young people.
Mental health funding is worth only £8 per person affected, which is 22 times less than the investment into cancer research (£178 per person) and 14 times less than dementia (£110 per person).
In addition, despite 75% of mental illnesses starting by the age of 18, only 22.6% - £26 million a year – of the total mental health research spend is put towards children and young people’s studies in particular.
This lack of investment in children’s mental health means that little is known about the cause of mental illness and therefore what treatments are most effective, or what could be done to prevent it from having a negative impact on people’s lives. As a result, the majority of mental healthcare resources are not designed and developed for young people, seeing poorer treatment outcomes in young people.
The volume of children and young people impacted is significant; about 3 children in every classroom will have a diagnosable mental illness, affecting 3.2 million young people in total. Despite this, it takes an average of 10 years between experiencing their first symptoms and getting help, with only a quarter of young people referred to services receiving appropriate care.
Further figures from MQ show that the thought of having a mental illness is something children and young people fear; with 49% saying that if somebody their own age were to develop a condition they would worry that they would never get better.
Alienation and social perceptions are also a concern for those surveyed: more than half of children and young people think that if a peer were to develop a condition they would be treated differently (56%), lose friends (55%) and feel embarrassed (51%).
In response, MQ is launching a major new research drive to provide long-term solutions for the ever increasing issue of young people’s mental health.
With the goal of redressing the balance of investment priorities, the charity is bringing together leading scientists in a consortium to better understand how mental illness develops, identify those who are most at risk, develop effective interventions and ensure they are implemented. Current research projects include childhood psychosis, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder and schizophrenia.
Cynthia Joyce, MQ’s CEO, said: “We can no longer accept the status quo in mental health. Radical change is needed. If we don’t take action now, this imbalanced situation will continue to let down millions of children and young people.
“Through research, we’ve seen extraordinary advances in healthcare that were once unimaginable. We need to be just as ambitious about mental health, and implement long-term action.
“At MQ, we believe research is the key to making sure that young people affected by mental illness get the help they need, and the growing crisis of young people’s mental health is tackled once and for all.”