Date Published: 21 June 2006

Poverty and deprivation are among the causes of mental health problems in Scottish children

Children from poorer backgrounds, children in care, asylum-seeker children and those who have witnessed domestic violence, are all at a higher risk of developing mental health problems, according to a new BMA report out 20 June 2006.

Mental health problems can range from sleep disorders, excessive temper tantrums to depressive and obsessive disorders.

The report, Child and Adolescent Mental Health ? A Guide for Healthcare Professionals, finds that mental health disorders in children are on the increase and that poverty and deprivation are major risk factors.

One in 10 children between the ages of one and 15 has a mental health disorder ? in real terms, this suggests that around 1.1 million children under the age of 18 would benefit from specialist services. These problems have a huge impact on families and carers, as well as on the individual.

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, Head of BMA Ethics and Science, said today:

" Children from deprived backgrounds have a poorer start in life on many levels, but without good mental health they may not have a chance to develop emotionally and reach their full potential in life. For example, 45% of children in the care of local authorities suffer from mental health problems. These children may have come from socially and economically deprived backgrounds, and are more likely to under-perform at school. There are a number of government policies currently being rolled out that are aimed at tackling these problems. It is essential that they deliver what they promise."

She added:

" Deprivation often goes hand in hand with poor diet and unhealthy living. Healthcare professionals are beginning to recognise just how important diet and physical exercise are in preventing mental health problems and it is vital that more research is carried out in this area. For example, there is some evidence to suggest that supplementation with omega 3 fatty acids can lead to improved symptoms in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) sufferers."

A key barrier to young people using mental health services is that they are not tailored to meet their needs, says the report. For example, young people are more likely to access services that are open after school and not too far from where they live. The BMA says services need to take account of language and cultural differences.

Dr Andrew Thomson, a GP trainee in Scotland and a member of the BMA's Board of Science, added:

" In Scotland we have led the way in developing and introducing new mental health legislation that focuses on the patient. However, while policy has improved, the barriers to young people using mental health services still exist and must be tackled.
_ Scotland has some of the most poverty-stricken communities in the UK and it is vital that extra effort and resources is invested to target young people in these communities as part of the Executive's drive to improve the health of Scots living in deprivation."

According to the report, rates of mental health problems tend to be higher among children from black and minority ethnic groups, as they are more likely to experience risk factors such as deprivation, discrimination and poor educational and employment opportunities; yet they often to do not receive appropriate treatment.

There is a worrying shortage of mental healthcare professionals, including those from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, and this needs urgent attention, states the BMA report.

Key recommendations from the report include:

  • The reforms outlined in the Child Poverty Review must be implemented to end child deprivation and therefore reduce risk factors for mental health problems.
  • Children and young people need innovative and flexible health services that suit their ages and lifestyles.
  • Current strategies for addressing child and adolescent mental health problems must be fully implemented.
  • The media has a role to play in tackling the stigma of mental illness ? a study of British tabloid newspapers found that 40% of daily articles about mental health used derogatory terms such 'nutter' or 'loony'.
  • The government must address the current shortage of mental healthcare professionals.

Source(s): British Medical Association (BMA)

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