Child mental health waiting times in Scotland were at a record low between the months of April and June 2018, with only 67.8% of 4,664 children and young people starting treatment within the Scottish Government's 18-week waiting time target. Children's mental health problems carry a huge socio-economic impact on society as a whole, and even the target 18 weeks is an immensely long wait-time to see a counsellor.
During this period a lot can change, and it is unlikely that a child's mental state will improve without help from a professional. Young people are often encouraged to contact NHS 111 or charities such as Childline to seek the essential support they need, but how can the agents and counsellors on the other end of the line provide help if they are not equipped with details of the caller's mental health history?
Gathering crucial information prior to interactions equips counsellors with the relevant information to approach young people in the most suitable manner. Furthermore, if there is any indication of immediate risk, emergency services can be informed automatically whilst the caller talks to a counsellor, who knows exactly how to direct the conversation. Strategies like this ensure that no time is lost once a child finds themselves in a critical situation. The information made visible to the counsellor helps to guide vulnerable young people, who have already shown great bravery, to the correct destination for their mental health issue.
Asking the caller to repeat sensitive information is frustrating and may prove difficult, especially for those suffering from trauma, with many survivors struggling to discuss it at all, let alone with a stranger on the other end of the line. Young people can find it incredibly difficult to articulate their thoughts and feelings, and a mental health issue can make this practically impossible. Above all, in time-sensitive situations delicacy can often be a challenge, trying to ensure the caller's safety and not rushing through the interaction. In this case, an automated text to the caller with a link to self-triage could be an effective solution, allowing the patient to answer questions in writing within a safe space before speaking to an agent. The caller would then feel more anonymous and the counsellor on the other end of the line receives crucial information on the caller's state before the interaction.
As part of the drive to create parity between mental and physical health organisations caring for children struggling with mental health issues, access to all available information is vital, such as national risk registries and clinical history. Only then will they be able to ensure that young people are properly safeguarded when they reach out for help.
BBC, 'Targets missed for child mental health care services', BBC News, 4 September 2018