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Investing in children’s mental health

A review of evidence on the costs and benefits of increased service provision

Nearly 10% of children aged 5-16 in this country suffer from a clinically diagnosable mental health condition, but only a minority receive any form of effective intervention.

This is damaging and costly, not only in terms of immediate distress to the children and families concerned but also because untreated childhood mental health problems have a strong tendency to persist into later life, often with a wide range of adverse consequences, including extra costs for individuals, taxpayers and society as a whole.

This report summarises the available evidence on the effectiveness and value for money of interventions for child and adolescent mental health problems.

The most common mental health conditions affecting children and young people are conduct disorder (i.e. severe behavioural problems), anxiety, depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Our review of the evidence shows that for all these conditions there are interventions that are not only effective in improving outcomes but also good value for money, in some cases outstandingly so, as measured by the surplus of measurable economic benefits over the costs of intervention.

Measurable benefits mainly take the form of savings in future spending on health and other public services and increases in future earnings. These benefits are over and above the more intangible benefits of improved wellbeing and quality of life that are the fundamental justification of investment in children’s mental health. Attaching a monetary value to these intangible benefits would increase still further the estimated returns on investment.

Mental health services for children and young people are provided by a wide range of organisations, including the NHS, local authorities, schools and voluntary and community bodies. Many of these organisations have suffered from budget cuts in recent years. The evidence summarised in this report suggests that this comes at a very heavy price in terms of benefits forgone.