Children and teenagers are suffering most with the mental health impact of the pandemic, according to an analysis from the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
Data from NHS Digital on referrals showed 372,438 referrals to children and young people’s mental health services in April to December 2020 – an increase of 28% compared with the previous year.
In addition, 18,268 children and young people needed urgent or emergency crisis care, a rise of 18% on 2019.
It includes more children than ever before being treated by or on waiting lists for eating disorder services.
The College said 3.58 million treatment sessions were given to children and young people in this period, a fifth higher than the previous year.
While the country as a whole was seeing a rise in people seeking help for mental health problems, it was the under 18s who were suffering the most, they said.
More than one million more treatment sessions were given to adults between April and December last year up by 8% on 2019, the figures showed with an all time high of 159,347 urgent or emergency crisis referrals made for adults.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists is calling for the additional £500m, including £79m for children’s services, promised in the Government’s Mental Health Action Recovery plan to urgently reach the frontline to help tackle the crisis.
Dr Bernadka Dubicka, chair of the child and adolescent faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: ‘Our children and young people are bearing the brunt of the mental health crisis caused by the pandemic and are at risk of lifelong mental illness.
‘As a frontline psychiatrist I’ve seen the devastating effect that school closures, disrupted friendships, and the uncertainty caused by the pandemic have had on the mental health of our children and young people.
‘Services were already struggling to cope with the number of children needing help before the pandemic hit, and they risk being overrun unless government ensures the promised money reaches the frontline quickly.’
Professor Azeem Majeed, professor of primary care at Imperial College London said there had been an increase in mental health problems in children since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and extra support was needed.
‘In many parts of England, mental health services for children and young people are struggling to meet the demands for their services. This is also placing increased pressure on GPs and primary care teams who cannot often get timely specialist care for their patients.’
RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall said the figures were concerning, but sadly unsurprising.
‘The direct and indirect impact of the pandemic has been challenging, and will have had an effect on many patients’ mental health, and exacerbated some patients’ pre-existing mental health conditions further.’
GPs were currently working incredibly hard to care for these patients but urgently need better and easier access to specialist mental health services in the community, he added.
‘It’s essential that GPs and our teams are supported with the necessary resources and a sufficient workforce to manage these pressures, so that we can continue to deliver the high-quality care and services our patients rely on us for.’
Minister for mental health, Nadine Dorries, said she was acutely aware of how difficult the pandemic has been for many especially children and young people.
‘Early intervention and treatment is vital, and we are providing an extra £2.3 billion a year to mental health services, this will help an additional 345,000 children and young people access NHS-funded services or school and college-based support by 2023/24.
‘Last month we announced a cross-government Mental Health Recovery Action plan, backed by an additional £500 million, specifically targeting those that have been most impacted by the pandemic including those with severe mental illness, young people, and frontline staff.’