Why waiting times matter in mental health

18 weeks. That’s the target waiting time, often missed, from referral to being seen.  From now in deepest darkest December to  Mid April, what an age that is. It’s hard on adults. Arguably harder when that’s how long some of our most distressed young people have to wait for support. 18 weeks or  4 months is a very long time if you are 13. If you are being bullied, if life is becoming more complex and you feel ill equipped to cope. It’s more than a school term, it\s too long and that’s the best on offer. Too often, currently for  1600  children,  the wait was over a year. Let’s be realistic, any child that has asked for help and waits over a year will undoubtedly experience that response as  No, there is no help.

The last 18 months has seen very few of us untouched by the pressures of the pandemic and the impact on the mental health of both adults and the young has been significant. From a self-reported rising anxiety across the population generally to increased rates of disordered eating and self harming amongst young people.  

In my work as Counsellor I have seen this in the increased waiting lists for our third sector services, parents seeking private services for children to avoid waiting times that seem to be never ending and referrals to online services. Even before Covid we were in trouble. One young person I worked with, told me what she’d learnt from 5 years bouncing between referrals from her GP  to the private sector, to CAMHS and to online services as she now transitioned to adult services.

This is my problem, no-one can help. I’ll just have to deal with it. 

It was an indictment of how we look after our young today in Scotland, sitting on waiting lists and signposted to online programmes. 

There is much to be done, but the good news is that earlier intervention, counsellors in school and psychosocial services in the community could do so much. I have seen in Children services that early meaningful action can be transformatory and it is one of the pleasures of working with young people that  change can be possible. Let’s grasp that possibility. Back in 2019 the Children and Young People’s  Mental Health taskforce  investigated CAMH services and proposed 12 recommendations on the creation of a whole system approach model.

The Liberal Democrats call on the Scottish Government to roll out these recommendations to get our youth the right help at the right time and there needs to be urgency in Government. The expansion of numbers of children waiting over a year to be seen is evidence we are going backwards not forwards.

We need counsellors accessible and embedded in all school communities and we need services to refer onto for more complex specialist needs, for at risk children and those developing neurological disorders

Liberal Democrats have consistently argued that mental health is as important as physical health and public health research  tells us that the two are strongly correlated.

We need workforce planning fit for the task. We need the Scottish government to hire the 800 staff promised for key locations such as A& E and GP Services. To  identify how many schools don’t have a counsellor today and commit to deliver a  counsellor in every school.  To use  imaginative solutions to enable early intervention with children and use and support third sector services in this. 

This is the work of the day that the young and the  vulnerable need of the SNP government.

The question is when and if they will deliver? 


* Jane Alliston is the Scottish Liberal Democrats' Mental Health Spokesperson