Tucked away from Aberdeen’s busy King Street is a building of many different colors.
Once you spot it, it’s obvious. But many will rush past, ignoring the work being done inside to support children and young people in their mental health.
Bold greens, reds and yellows greet visitors to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) building on Urquhart Road, before they enter a more subdued reception.
Dotted with toys and comfy seats, the staff tried to create a family atmosphere.
Many services remain online after the pandemic, which the team – which covers the whole of Grampian – say many of their patients prefer.
But Amanda Farquharson, head of the CAMHS service at NHS Grampian, said the changes brought about by Covid go far beyond virtual appointments, with an increase in the number of cases and their complexity.
CAMHS Grampian helps assess and treat young people with emotional, behavioral or mental health challenges, from birth to 16 years old.
“Last year we had 4,050 patient referrals,” Ms. Farquharson said.
“I’m not shocked by that number anymore and I think it’s because we’re following a national trend.”
Children and young people are getting sick ‘faster and faster’
There is a range of professional support for referrals, and many cases will see different people during their time with the service – ranging from psychologists, nurses and occupational therapists.
“We are seeing more sick children and young people than before,” Ms Farquharson added.
“I think in the last two years a lot has happened for children and young people.
“There has been the pandemic and the effects of what that means for them. And then confinement too, it can be really tricky.
“I think it’s multifactorial, I don’t think it’s just one thing that’s the peak or the impact.
“I think if you add them all together, the effects of that on a child and a young person, as adults it was difficult for us to deal with some of that.
“So for children and young people, they are the vulnerability of that. This is what we are seeing now and we will probably continue to see this.
Ms Farquharson thinks the cost of living crisis will also add to the worries of many young people, who may be feeling the pressure at home.
She said: “I think all of these things together are why we see complexity increasing and children, young people getting sicker and sicker faster.
“We don’t know what the future will look like in terms of what we will see.
“That’s why we need to constantly evolve and be able to work better with children and young people as it develops.”
Trying to keep them from “reaching that crisis point”
Referrals may also be on the rise due to continued efforts to explain how services work and to eliminate the stigma around mental health in schools and communities through staff training and more resources for parents and guardians.
Ms Farquharson, 39, said during the pandemic support was limited and the team was determined to help before young people “reach that crisis point”.
“We are actively trying to engage with our partners to try to think about these areas so that we can support children and young people earlier,” she said.
“That way hopefully they don’t come to us when they’re sickest.” If they come to see us, it’s more planned and we can support them in a planned way.
“I hope that by doing this we can prevent a child or young person from reaching this crisis point.
“That doesn’t mean it won’t happen, and we’re here for that, but what we want to do is be able to try to support them as soon as possible as much as possible.”
How to get help from CAMHS
- Young people can be referred to CAMHS through their GP, school or family.
- Their first date will be scheduled within 18 weeks, a goal that CAMHS has strived to achieve over the past few years.
- The young person will be asked to ‘sign up’ and will then undertake an assessment to determine what support is needed and to develop a plan outlining next steps.
- A possible action could be group work, individual sessions or even support groups for parents.
- This is the process for about 80% of referrals, with the remaining 20% classed as urgent for those who are “critically ill” or in need of intervention.
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[Increase in ‘complex’ mental health cases among young people in Grampian since Covid]