Prime Minister Theresa May this week announced plans to transform attitudes towards mental health and improve support services, particularly for children and young people.
While autism is not a mental illness, more than 70 per cent of people with autism spectrum conditions (ASC) experience mental health problems such as anxiety and depression during their lives, according to the National Autistic Society (NAS).
The NHS, schools and employers would all have a role to play, said the Prime Minister, who is the MP for Maidenhead, in a speech at the Charity Commission on Monday.
Among the measures she announced are:
- Every secondary school in the country will be offered mental health first aid (MHFA) training for staff to help them identify symptoms and children who may be developing mental health issues – Autism Berkshire provides MHFA courses for parents of children with an ASC aged 8 to 18. Click here for details of forthcoming sessions in Wokingham and West Berkshire.
- Trials to look at how to strengthen the links between schools and local NHS mental health staff.
- A review of Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), led by the Care Quality Commission, to identify what is working and what is not.
- A new Green Paper on children and young people’s mental health, to set out plans to transform services in schools, universities and for families.
- By 2021, no child will be sent away from their local area to receive treatment for mental health issues.
- A new partnership with employers to improve mental health support in the workplace. The NAS says that just 16 per cent of autistic adults are in full-time paid work.
According to the Government, one in four people has a common mental disorder at any one time and the annual economic and social cost of mental illness is £105 billion – similar to the entire annual NHS budget.
The Prime Minister said: “What I am announcing are the first steps in our plan to transform the way we deal with mental illness in this country at every stage of a person’s life: not in our hospitals, but in our classrooms, at work and in our communities.
“This starts with ensuring that children and young people get the help and support they need and deserve – because we know that mental illness too often starts in childhood and that when left untreated, can blight lives, and become entrenched.”
She added: “Mental health problems are everyone’s problem. As a society we must face up to that fact.”
The National Autistic Society said Mrs May’s proposals “if implemented properly, have the potential to make a difference to many autistic people and their families”.