Offering youngsters mental health counselling in primary school could help to prevent pupils from skipping school, cut crime and lead to higher employment, according to a report.
It concludes that early help, such as one-to-one mental health support, can help boost the life chances of children and bring economic benefits.
The study, by Pro Bono Economics, analysed school-based mental health services provided by the charity Place2Be.
It examined the improvement in mental health of youngsters at 251 primaries – around 4,548 children in total – who had received one-to-one support from the charity’s counsellors in 2016/17.
The study calculates that every £1 invested in this service during the year 2016/17 could deliver a return of £6.20 to society by improving children’s long-term outcomes.
It said: “Providing counselling services in primary schools could lead to improved outcomes in the form of reduced rates of truancy, exclusion, smoking, depression and crime and also higher rates of employment and wages.”
Andy Haldane, co-founder and trustee at Pro Bono Economics, said: “An estimated one in 10 children and young people in the UK have a mental health condition.
“Without effective intervention, these conditions can have a significant impact on their life chances and result in significant long-term costs.
“These costs arise from a range of adverse outcomes for the individual, such as reduced earnings and increased Government spending on education, social care, and youth and criminal justice.”
Place2Be chief executive Catherine Roche said: “This incredibly helpful new economic analysis underlines what our own data and experience have shown us – that providing mental health support at the earliest possible stage is vital to giving children brighter prospects for the future and ensuring that problems don’t become more complex and entrenched.”
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said: “School leaders regularly raise concerns about support for pupils’ mental wellbeing. They are doing everything they can to give the children in their care the support they need, but it is becoming harder and harder as funding and resources get cut both for schools and for specialist mental health services.
“One in five children will experience a mental health difficulty at least once in their first 11 years, and many adults with lifetime mental health issues can trace the symptoms back to childhood.
“This research shows so clearly the positive impact early help can have, for individuals and for society.”