CC Flickr: Michele Lamberti

Concern over record number of child mental health referrals in England and Wales

Record numbers of children and young people are being referred to mental health services in England and Wales, as the toll of the pandemic on the people’s health is laid bare in a new report. 

A year-and-a-half after the first lockdown, and subsequent warnings from the mental health sector about the long-lasting impact of the pandemic on people’s well-being, the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ analysis of National Health Service (NHS) data found that 190,271 children and young people (aged 0-18) were given a referral to child and young people mental health (CYPMHS) between April and June this year – up 134 per cent on the same period last year (81,170) and 96 per cent on 2019 (97,342).

In addition, 8,552 children and young people were referred for urgent or emergency crisis care between April and June this year, up 80 per cent on the same period last year (4,741) and up 64 per cent on 2019 (5,219). Also, 340,694 children in contact with CYPMHS at the end of June, up a quarter on the same month last year (272,529) and up by half on June 2019 (225,480).

The college has urged new education secretary, Nadhim Zahawi MP, to make children and young people’s mental health needs a top priority. He must, it says, ‘ensure that all schools have clear plans in place to respond to pupils’ mental health needs’, and increase investment in staff training to improve the roll-out of mental health support teams.

‘It’s becoming increasingly clear that children are suffering terribly’

Dr Elaine Lockhart, chair of the Faculty of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “These alarming figures reflect what I and many other frontline psychiatrists are seeing in our clinics on a daily basis.“The pandemic has had a devastating effect on the nation’s mental health, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that children and young people are suffering terribly.

“Early intervention is key to recovery. Schools have a critical role to play in this and the education secretary must do all that he can to prioritise pupils’ mental health.“Children’s mental health services must also be properly funded and properly staffed if we are to treat the ever-growing number needing mental health care. Without investment, we run the risk of many more needing crisis help.”

Sarah (not her real name), whose teenage daughter relapsed into anorexia during the pandemic, said: “The pandemic has been devastating for my daughter and for our family. She has anorexia and was discharged from an inpatient unit last year, but the disruption to her normal routines and socialising really affected her recovery. She was spending a lot less time doing the things she enjoys and a lot more time alone with her thoughts.

“Unfortunately, she relapsed, becoming so unwell she was admitted to hospital and sectioned. After 72 days in hospital with no specialist eating disorder bed becoming available, we brought her home where I had to tube feed her for ten weeks. “My daughter urgently needed specialist help for this life-threatening illness, but services are completely overwhelmed because so many young people need help. It’s a terrifying situation for patients and families to be in.”
Click here for more on the statistics.

Author: Simon Weedy

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