A £79 million funding boost will allow schools and colleges to provide better mental health support for their pupils.
The number of children likely to be diagnosed with a mental health issue has risen from 1 in 9 in 2017 to 1 in 6, with many more cases likely to be diagnosed during the fallout of the pandemic.
The stark statistic raises concerns for children now returning to school, many of whom will require increased support for issues that may have developed during their time at home.
The £79 million, which forms part of the £500 million package promised by the government to support mental health funding, will be dedicated to increasing the quality of support in schools and colleges across the country.
The aim is to increase the number of schools with a mental health support team from 59 to 400 by April 2023, which is estimated to help around 3 million children.
"This has been an exceptionally difficult year, especially for our children and young people, and we know it is having a real impact on mental health," said minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, Nadine Dorries, in a government statement.
"This additional funding will mean children who need to can access services in the community, as well as providing early intervention in schools."
During the pandemic, mental health teams have been working virtually to provide support to pupils and their families, as well as providing training and workshop sessions for school staff to improve the way they can support their students.
Children have also been able to text their local mental health support team with any concerns, to which a professional responds within an hour during school hours.
The government says that community mental health services will also be expanded, "giving 22,500 more children and young people access to help and support by 2021 to 2022 – including talking therapies and cognitive behavioural therapy."
Mind CEO Paul Farmer welcomed the investment, highlighting the urgent need for support for children returning to school.
"With schools re-opening in England next week, the commitment to having better mental health support for pupils cannot come soon enough.
"There is still lots more work to be done to ensure that every young person gets the support they need for their mental health. But this is a positive step forward in cementing mental health at the heart of recovery from the pandemic and beyond."
Emma Thomas, CEO of YoungMinds, added her praise:
“We know that too often young people can’t get the help they need until they hit crisis point – and there’s much more work to do to ensure that help is available earlier on, through schools, communities and the NHS.
"We hope that today’s meeting will be an important step towards ensuring every child who is struggling with their mental health can get the support they need.”
But some organisations remain sceptical of the funding package.
Youth mental health charity Beyond called the funding "a great start", but put it into context of other investment packages pledged by the government.
"...it’s also about 10 times less than the investment allocated to the academic catch up plan," the charity states in an Instagram post.
"How will these funds be ring-fenced to ensure they end up where they should end up and how quickly will schools and colleges benefit from them?"
The announcement coincided with a meeting between the Prime Minister Boris Johnson and government Youth Mental Health Ambassador Dr Alex George with four young people with experience of mental health issues.
Last month, George called for schools to take a flexible approach to the return of pupils, suggesting that students would need "a bit of time to integrate slowly back in the classroom."
Read the full government announcement here.
Written by Marco Ricci
Editor and contributor for Talking Mental Health