Study shows benefits of specialist counselling for rising child mental health issues

  • Latest research by PBE for Place2Be looking at children’s mental health
  • 1 in 6 aged 6-10 have ‘probable mental disorder’ – 5 in every classroom
  • Less than 50% estimated to have access to school support under plans
  • Place2Be’s 1-1 counselling generates £8 of benefits for every £1 spent

A mental health charity’s specialist one-to-one counselling service for primary schoolchildren generates £8 in benefits for every £1 spent, according to a new study.

New research by Pro Bono Economics has estimated that the one-to-one counselling service provided by Place2Be, a children’s mental health charity, in primary schools across the UK generates up to £36 million in long-term benefits each year.

These benefits come through higher wages and better employment outcomes for children in later life, as well as reduced costs to taxpayers from the likes of lower truancy and crime rates and a decreased need for mental health support.

A rising tide of mental health problems among children in the UK in recent years has been exacerbated by successive lockdowns during the pandemic.

The latest NHS survey data shows that the number of six to 10-year-olds with a “probable mental disorder” in England increased significantly between 2017 and 2021, rising from 10% to 17% in four years. The impact of the pandemic on schooling and home life is believed to be a key driver behind this increase.

In 2017, the UK government launched a new drive to tackle the growing mental health crisis among children by establishing mental health support teams (MHSTs) in schools and colleges. Under current plans, the government will have 500 MHSTs set up in England by 2024. However, PBE estimates that this will only cover around 46% of state school pupils.

Place2Be currently delivers its ‘whole school’ mental health support, including one-to-one counselling, in 350 primary schools around the UK. The charity plays a vital role alongside the government’s MHST approach in increasing access to mental health services in schools for children who need support.

Early intervention in children’s mental health like the counselling Place2Be provides is crucial to ensure the problems faced are limited not only in the present but in the long-term as well. Research suggests mental ill health in childhood is linked to an increase in the likelihood of depression in adulthood.

PBE’s study, which looked at six academic years of Place2Be provision from 2015/16 to 2020/21, found that the cost of the charity’s one-to-one counselling service amounted to £1,100 per child on average.

According to the research, this generates long-term average benefits of up to £8,700 per child through higher wages and better employment outcomes for the individual, as well as reduced costs to taxpayers from the likes of lower truancy and crime rates and a decreased need for mental health support.

The report found that Place2Be’s counselling service in primary schools across the UK could generate as much as £36m of lifetime benefits from each academic year of support, at an average cost of £4.5m each year.

Policymakers have been taking steps to boost mental healthcare provision to children in the UK. Last year, the government announced the number of MHSTs in schools and colleges in England will grow from 59 to 400 by April 2023, supporting nearly 3m children.

But the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition warned that the government’s planned provision “is not enough to meet the scale of need” – estimating that only one-third of state school pupils would have access to a MHST.

Earlier this year, the government pledged to add another 100 MHSTs to ensure there are 500 in operation by 2024. But PBE estimates that this will fail to cover more than half of state school pupils.

This is compounded by the fact that the proposed MHSTs are aimed at supporting children with “mild to moderate” conditions, so expert interventions for more severe conditions, such as counselling, are still needed even in areas where MHSTs are operational.

Place2Be is a children’s mental health charity that supports primary and secondary school children in the UK. For children in school, it provides group and one-to-one counselling, as well as offering advice to all under-18s who contact the organisation with mental health concerns. In addition, the charity provides mental health, safeguarding and other specialist training to school staff, and advice, support and resources to families.  

Rachel Gomez, Economist at Pro Bono Economics, said:

“Children’s mental health in the UK is at crisis point. The latest NHS data suggests there are five primary schoolchildren in every classroom with a probable mental disorder, a shocking statistic fuelled in part by the pandemic.

“We know that early interventions to support children who are struggling can help them to cope with the challenges they face – empowering them in childhood and setting them up for better wellbeing throughout their lives.

“The government has committed funding in recent years to attempting to deal with this growing problem in schools and colleges, but sadly these plans may not be enough – potentially leaving more than half of state school pupils without support.

“Meanwhile, Place2Be is delivering absolutely vital one-to-one counselling to primary schoolchildren who need it in around 350 schools across the UK each year. This programme is reaching thousands of children at just the right moment and delivering £36 million in long-term economic benefits every year.

“At a time of serious financial constraints, the government could benefit enormously from working closely with experts such as Place2Be and other charities that are delivering life-changing interventions on the ground in communities every day.”

Catherine Roche, Chief Executive of Place2Be, said:

“Place2Be has been providing mental health support in primary and secondary schools for over 25 years. This new analysis from Pro Bono Economics provides further evidence, drawing on our data and years of experience, to strongly demonstrate the case for early intervention and prevention.

“It’s clear that by supporting children at an early stage, we can not only alleviate distress and improve their wellbeing and ability to flourish both at home and in school now, but also make a difference in their life chances for the years to come.

“We regularly hear from teachers across the UK who are attempting to cope with increasing mental health needs in their classrooms – schools cannot face this growing need alone.

“Investing to enable children in all schools to access high quality, embedded mental health support, would not only address many of the problems facing us here and now, but will also have an enormous long-term benefit for our children, society and the wider economy as a whole.”

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