Grim forecast of teen suicides in Middle England

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The Independent Online
IN A SIGN of the growing pressures on the young, one of the most prosperous areas of the country is predicting 1,700 suicide attempts by teenagers over the next year.

The suicide attempts, which are expected to be mainly with drug overdoses, are a sign of the rising toll of mental health problems faced by young people set out in a report by the North and Mid Hampshire health authority.

The authority, which covers the M3 corridor in southern England including the towns of Winchester, Basingstoke, Aldershot and Farnborough, is also predicting that 150 girls aged 11 to 18 will develop eating disorders and more than 4,000 children aged 5 to 10 will need treatment for unexplained abdominal pain, a sign of stress.

The figures, based on a population of 136,000 aged up to 18, are cited in a report by the Audit Commission, published today, which warns that the mental health of children is being neglected in many parts of the country. North and Mid Hampshire is one of the few health authorities to have made a detailed assessment of the stresses on young people.

Nationally, one in five children and adolescents will suffer from depression, anxiety or a similar problem severe enough to require treatment. But their chances of receiving it vary widely, depending on where they live, the Audit Commission says in its 100-page report Children in Mind. Spending on mental health services for children ranges from pounds 5 a head to pounds 35 a head in different parts of the country. Some health authorities have more than 70 staff while others have fewer than 10. One in 10 NHS trusts could not offer a routine appointment within six months and two had a waiting time of more than two years.

David Browning, author of the report, said: "Mental health services for children are almost invisible. Half of all child psychotherapists are in London because that is where they trained. If you live north of Birmingham you have virtually no chance of seeing a psychotherapist."

In North and Mid Hampshire, an extra child psychiatrist has been appointed in Basingstoke. Work is also under way with GPs and schools to identify children at risk.

Although Hampshire is a prosperous area, the report notes that "high economic status does not make a child immune to psychological problems".

Some conditions such as anorexia, chronic fatigue syndrome and anxiety disorders are even more common in these areas, it says.

Using national incidence rates, adjusted for local factors, the authority estimates that two to four per cent of children aged 13 to 18 will attempt suicide - between 853 and 1,706. It says 0.2 per cent of girls aged 11 to 15 and one per cent of girls aged 16 to 18 will develop anorexia (147 in all) but only half will seek treatment.

Children in Mind, published by the Audit Commission, pounds 20 from Bookpoint, Ltd, 39 Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxfordshire, OX14 4TD.