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Relief for young people’s mental health

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Dr Simon Opher, Dursley GP and Labour Party Parliamentary candidate has announced a dramatic shift in the availability of mental health counselling and mentoring for young people in the Stroud area.

Work led by Dr Simon Opher and Stroud district GPs Dr Robin Blenkorn and Dr Jim Holmes means that local young people will now be able to access mental health counselling and mentoring within 2-3 weeks. 

Dr Opher said: “We have a crisis in  young people’s mental health. The figures are quite shocking. The pandemic has caused a four fold increase in eating disorders, and rates of anxiety and depression have gone up by over a third.

“I saw a young patient who had been admitted to hospital following an overdose. She had been told that she would have to wait 6 months for an appointment. People with clear eating disorders are being turned away from services, told they weren’t thin enough to qualify.”

Waiting times for mental health support are often over 6 months. Services for autism and ADHD are effectively non-existent, with waits of 3-4 years reported. The number of children not attending school has also reached alarming proportions, running at approximately 20%. This is predominantly caused by mental health issues. 

“We are in a perfect storm of increasing demand and reducing provision by an overstretched and underfunded NHS. Our statutory NHS mental health services are simply not coping,” Dr Opher added.

However, thanks to work by local primary care networks, this situation is set to change locally.

GPs across Stroud, Dursley and Wotton have worked with local health and social care specialists, using innovation funding from Gloucestershire NHS to provide in-house counselling and mentoring sessions for young people with a wait time of just weeks. In addition, they are offering mental health first aid certificate training in local schools and in Stroud College. This will enable young people to help themselves and others if they are struggling.

Hollie Jones, a young person social prescriber and trainee counselling psychologist said: “Previously when I referred young people to mental health services, either the referral was rejected, or they were given an appointment in 6 to 9 months. Now we can get them some professional counselling within weeks.”

A young person from Dursley, who asked not to be identified, said: “I was in a very low place. I felt anxious all the time, I couldn’t sleep properly and worried about everything. I felt stuck and didn’t know what to do. Hollie was so supportive, it felt like I was understood for the first time and she has helped me access counselling locally relatively quickly.”

Ms Jones, Dave Rawlings from Stroud District Council and Paul Walley from the NHS, together with local GPs are rolling out mental health first aid training to improve care and early intervention for young people. Local organisation The Door is providing mentoring sessions and Gloucestershire Counselling Service is providing bespoke one to one consultations. 

“Here in Stroud district we’re proving that things can be different,” Dr Opher said. “But we need children’s mental health to be treated as a priority across the country. It is a Cinderella service in the NHS and at present is failing our young people. Under a Labour government, every school would have a mental health practitioner and waiting times for services would be limited to a maximum of one month.

“The situation for ADHD and Autism services remains grim. Many young people are forced into the private sector to get assessments. This is simply not acceptable. I am campaigning to improve services for these conditions for both adults and children.”

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