THE NUMBER of children in mental health crisis in England has jumped 53 per cent in four years, official data shows.
Some 32,521 under-18s were referred for emergency care at mental health services in 2022 to 2023, up from 21,242 in 2019 to 2020.
Doctors at the Royal College of Psychiatrists said the shocking numbers “cannot become the new norm”.
Dr Elaine Lockhart, chair of the college’s child and adolescent faculty, said: “It’s unacceptable that so many children and young people are reaching crisis point before they are able to access care.
“Severe mental illness is not just an adult problem. The need for specialist mental health services for children and young people is growing all the time.
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“The evidence shows us that children who receive support quickly are less likely to develop long-term conditions, that negatively affect their education, social development and health in later life.
“Government and integrated care boards must commit to reducing the rate of mental illness among children by setting an achievable target.
“This needs to be backed by an expansion of the mental health workforce and additional funding for services.
“Investing in children’s mental health will ultimately free up NHS time and resources, while ensuring the country has a healthy and productive population in the years to come.”
The college said around half of mental health conditions arise before the age of 14 and three-quarters before the age of 24.
Data shows under-18s who are waiting for follow-up after a GP referral for mental health problems have already waited on average five months and, in the worst case, almost two years.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists said last year’s Government announcement of an extra £5million to improve access to existing early support hubs was welcome.
But it said it predicts an extra £125 to £205million is needed to establish hubs in every local authority, with running costs of at least £114m per year.
It’s unacceptable that so many children and young people are reaching crisis point before they are able to access care
Dr Elaine Lockhart
It comes as the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) published a statement outlining the “changing role” for paediatricians in being involved in identifying and helping children with poor mental health.
RCPCH officer for mental health Dr Karen Street said: “The entire children’s workforce has a role to play in tackling the current crisis in children’s mental health but as paediatricians we are particularly well placed to make a difference.
“Research shows paediatricians are the most trusted profession for secondary school children, across all ethnicities and backgrounds and that children see doctors as a key group to support their mental health.
“We know that paediatric settings and emergency departments are not ideal for children and young people experiencing a crisis in their mental health, but they cannot be left without support.
“If we are ever to get out of this dire situation then we need meaningful support for health services and staff, as well as child focused polices that can improve the physical, emotional, social and educational wellbeing of young people.
“The responsibility to tackle this growing mental health emergency cannot be left to healthcare professionals alone.”
Liberal Democrat health and social care spokesperson Daisy Cooper said: “This devastating explosion of mental ill health among children should be a wake-up call for the government.
“Conservative ministers have neglected children’s mental health during and after the pandemic, leaving mental health services and families in crisis.
“We have seen a litany of broken promises from this government including the failure to deliver maximum waiting times for children, ending out of area placements or reforming the Mental Health Act.”
16 signs your child may be at risk of depression
Symptoms of depression in children may include:
- sadness, or a low mood that does not go away
- being irritable or grumpy all the time
- not being interested in things they used to enjoy
- feeling tired and exhausted a lot of the time
- have trouble sleeping or sleep more than usual
- not be able to concentrate
- interact less with friends and family
- be indecisive
- not have much confidence
- eat less than usual or overeat
- have big changes in weight
- seem unable to relax or be more lethargic than usual
- talk about feeling guilty or worthless
- feel empty or unable to feel emotions (numb)
- have thoughts about suicide or self-harming
- actually self-harm, for example, cutting their skin or taking an overdose
Source: The NHS