A survey into the explosion in demand for psychiatric help from young people says children in need of mental health services should be guaranteed treatment within four weeks, with referrals the next day for those at risk of getting sick. self-harm and suicide.
The Commission on Young Lives inquiry, chaired by former England Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield, said a £1billion ‘once in a generation’ recovery scheme was needed to strengthen an overstretched NHS system, too often obliged to refuse young patients.
A “rising tide” of poor mental health in which incidences of self-harm, suicide attempts, anxiety, eating disorders and behavioral difficulties were more extreme and frequent, was an overwhelming attempt by services of the NHS to offer rapid and consistent help to young people, he said. .
Longfield said children’s mental health had gone from “barely on the radar” as a Whitehall political issue just five years ago to a national emergency. She said: “The scale of the problem is growing, amplified by the pandemic, and the system is caving under the strain and unable to cope with the explosion in demand for help.”
In March, 90,789 young people were referred to NHS child and adolescent mental health services, the highest figure since records began, the survey found. He quoted headteachers and youth workers who said dealing with young people who were self-harming or attempting suicide had become “an integral part of their professional lives”.
Overall, one in six children aged 6 to 16 has a probable mental health problem – a “huge increase” from one in nine in 2017, according to the report.
However, in some cases high care thresholds meant that young people with serious mental health problems were denied NHS treatment until they could prove they had made “multiple suicide attempts with a serious intention”, according to the investigation.
The commission cited the case of a teenager discharged from hospital after attempting suicide who, 10 days later, had not been contacted by mental health services. A young woman discharged from A&E after a suicide attempt was not contacted by mental health staff for a fortnight despite her parents’ daily pleas for help.
Those who were referred for treatment were typically entered into a postcode lottery of wait times. The average wait was 32 days, although this varied from six days in some English regions to 81 in others. According to the latest figures covering 2020-2021, only 23% of children referred to services started treatment within four weeks.
Longfield added: “The government’s overall response to this children’s mental health crisis has so far been too slow and inadequate, and we are failing to support hundreds of thousands of children with mental health issues. It is shocking to learn that some young people who attempt suicide still do not receive an immediate referral for help and are sent away without any further support. »
Although the survey gave the government and NHS England credit for ‘very real improvements’ in children’s mental health services in recent years’, including the deployment of school mental health teams, the scheme was uneven and was “losing the battle against growing demand” to help.
Olly Parker, external affairs manager for the charity YoungMinds, said this echoed the concerns of the commission. He said: “For years politicians have promised they will get the youth mental health crisis under control, including recently committing to a 10-year plan. But the reality is that with each month of uncertainty and inaction, things are rapidly getting worse for young people.
A government spokesperson said: “We are committed to ensuring that children can access the support and resources they need, as early as possible.
“We are continuing to take action to support their mental health – including £79 million to ensure that 22,000 more children and young people can access community mental health services, as well as expanding mental health support teams in schools to reach 3 million students by 2024. .
“This is on top of our record investment to expand and transform services by giving 345,000 more children access to support by 2024 and expanding the children’s mental health workforce by more than 40%.”