The Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, or CAMHS, is an NHS-run service which aims to support under 18s with their mental health problems.  It was established in 1995 and developed from piecemeal and patchy mental health provisions organised by individual hospitals, instituting a four-tier system of support for young people. As the rates of young people suffering from mental health problems increase, this service is more important than ever. 

From its inception, major concerns have been raised about reductions in CAMHS while demand increases, and waiting list times soar. Young people are forced to travel hundreds of miles for faltering and underfunded healthcare, with some having to wait over a year. CAMHS referrals are also notoriously hard to receive, and some young people with multiple diagnoses have been unable to receive help on the NHS.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Recently CAMHS users have taken to TikTok to express their common frustrations with the service. When listing the problems of CAMHS, one user said: depression and suicide planning are ‘[considered] low mood;’ This chilling experience has resonated with a lot of other CAMHS users, with similar horror stories appearing over the last few months.

The pain and frustration these patients are feeling is the result of a service which has been gutted for over a decade. 

State of CAMHS

The Conservative governments of the last 12 years have made it clear that mental health is not a priority, despite their posturing to the contrary. They have overseen a 25% reduction in NHS mental health beds since 2010, as public mental health continues to decline, and 1 in 6 children (5-16) experienced mental health problems in 2020, up from 1 in 9 in 2017. 

These numbers are expected to worsen as the full impact of the pandemic and bungled lockdowns manifests in young people. The Conservatives have paved the way for an unprecedented crisis of mental health with negligent cuts and privatisation, while a wave of discontent spreads through a generation who can only remember an incompetent government and the helplessness of decaying British capitalism. 

The crisis of capitalism, paired with the Tories’ complete incompetence and lack of compassion is on open display. They have slashed mental health budgets, while adding increasingly difficult targets for CAMHS, such as a proposed waiting time of 4 weeks for young people needing specialist help. There is no capacity for this target to be met, and moreover, it is grossly inadequate. 1 in 5 people have had suicidal thoughts, and waiting a month for help would be a clear sign of a dysfunctional society this is the Tories’ lofty aim. 

The Way Forward

If we want to improve youth mental health, we have to look at the root causes of some of these problems. Capitalism continues to decay and decline, and its increasingly reckless pursuit of profit, fundamental to capitalism, gives rise to a whole crop of social issues. We’ve seen a vanishing of community projects as council budgets are slashed year on year. Meanwhile, job and housing insecurity is soaring, and through the pandemic we’ve seen fire and rehire tactics all over the country. There is a loss of distance between home and work, and working from home often comes with an expectation of unpaid overtime, and always being reachable. Social media grows increasingly toxic and insidious under the tremendous weight of the profit motive. All of this destabilises families, homes and communities, which forms the material instability from which high rates of mental health problems will arise

Focussing on improving a mental healthcare system while ignoring the causes of mental health problems is a perfect example of the irrationality of modern capitalism. 

So clearly the problems with CAMHS cannot be fixed without improving the surrounding systems. Of course, we must kick out the uncaring Tories and stop the privatisation of the NHS, but our task does not end there. We must support the overworked counsellors and GPs, and their fights for better wages and working conditions. And most importantly, we must work to create a system where free and substantial healthcare can be a reality for the entirety of the youth and working class. Only under a socialist plan of production can we meet these goals, and fully fund and resource the NHS and mental health services. This can only happen in a system that is not driven by profit. 

The massive reduction in working hours that comes with the abolition of capitalism and introduction of socialism would give workers the possibility to take appropriate leisure time, and achieve a healthier work-life balance. The stress of evictions, unemployment and poverty which can be triggers for many types of mental issues, would be a relic of the past. These conditions give us a platform from which we can give people the help they truly need. 

To continue forwards, we have no choice but to abolish the madness of capitalism, and build an international socialist movement. We must fight for revolution!

Sanmay Kanumakala

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