on 24/03/2017

More than half of all adults with mental health problems were diagnosed in childhood but less than half were treated appropriately at the time*. Without support and treatment a mental health issue can colour a life. All the evidence suggests that early intervention is vital and so the work of charities like Visyon is so important. The numbers of children and young people self-harming in the last decade have risen as much as 68%, with approximately 1 in every 12 adolescents doing so* and cases are growing ever more complex. Campaigns like Heads Together have done a lot for improving public awareness and removing the stigma around mental health and much noise has been made by the conservatives promising to put billions of extra funds into children’s mental healthcare. So, what improvements have we seen and where is the cash going to?

According to research** nearly two thirds of clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), the GP led bodies which buy in health services for their local areas, have used some or all of the funds earmarked for children’s mental health services to backfill cuts and plug deficits. This is certainly supported by accounts I have heard this week from parents at Visyon of waits of up to 18 months for assessment by an overstretched child and adolescent mental health service (Camhs). This news is deeply troubling in light of the severity of some of Visyon’s referrals. I have learnt anecdotally of desperate parents taking their children directly to A&E just to get them seen. The situation seems to be a mess. It is an interesting point to consider that if a child had a broken arm, the problem would be treated instantly but a mental condition does not currently receive the same handling.

Visyon are on the front line of all of this and under the leadership of Gervase McGrath, CEO, are becoming a vital and vocal proponent of children’s mental health and the importance of early intervention. What is clear is that state funding is inconsistent and as part of their plan for the charity known aptly as ‘2020 Visyon’, the charity has decided to innovate and look at progressive new social enterprise projects like their new cafe at Congleton. It very much felt when I was there that they are on the brink of an exciting few years and I would be keen to see where the plan takes them.

So why should charities like Visyon receive funding and not merely the state? Visyon provide emotional support to over 1,000 children and young adults every year across Cheshire and Staffordshire through therapy, mentoring, activity groups, outreach and family support. I took part in several group therapy sessions this week. One such group was with a young girl starting secondary school suffering from anxiety issues. Together with counsellor Rachel we worked through an ‘emotional toolkit’ and I learnt a lot about myself. It was also touching to hear a girl’s view of the world as full of possibilities be it becoming a special effects make up artist, vet, singer, dancer and it made me ashamed of the cynicism we all acquire with age! I have since resolved to keep mine in check.

During my week I joined in three further groups, including a photography session and a group with three 11-13 year olds. The latter session was a mixture of talking through their weeks, worries, issues and moments of pride interspersed with some games too. The third group were the most vocal, consisting this time of three 18 year old boys. There is sometimes a male tendency to clam up about feelings, it not being considered particularly macho to do otherwise. However what struck me about this group was how supportive they had become of one another, to the point that they banter with each other happily and openly. I was told that there is scarcely anything that has not been discussed at this table (quite literally!). I feel as though everyone would benefit from an open group like this, the chance to talk through life’s challenges in a non-judgemental environment. This wasn’t a preachy support group led by an out of touch therapist in a tie dye t-shirt and sandals insisting the lads explore their feelings through cross-stitch or something equally patronising! Instead discussion is very much led by the lads with counsellors Gary and Lisa there to provide support and advice. This charity ‘gets it’ and I think that is why it works so well.

Visyon’s model is proven, they are over performing and there is an increasing demand for services. Through Visyon’s support and intervention thousands of young lives across Cheshire and Staffordshire have been altered and, in some instances I have learnt, quite literally saved. Whilst much of their funding is via local authority, unlike other more conservative charities, this does not prevent Visyon from standing up and being a voice for young people where they see political injustice. Quite rightly so in my view given that there is so much in this space to fight for.

This is a charity with principles. Its staff, volunteers (many of whom are former clients) and trustees are a broad church but what they all have in common is a genuine and ardent belief in the importance of supporting youth mental health. This charity are punching above their size in video content, online media, campaigning, events and innovation and despite a few knocks they appear to be winning round by round. This makes them my ‘medium-sized charity to watch’.

With special thank you to Sandi and my partner in crime this week - Lee and the rest of the team, I have been made to feel truly welcome and part of the Visyon family.

All good things,



** Conducted by Young Minds

Alice Biggar

Author: Alice Biggar

Alice is our National Philanthropy Manager & current holder of The Nicest Job in Britain.