Double the number of children and young people are being referred to mental health services than before the pandemic, the Royal College of Psychiatrists has warned.
Almost 200,000 referrals were made to children and young people’s mental health services (CAHMS) for under-18s between April and June this year, the College said, an increase of 134% on the same period last year and 96% on 2019.
In all 8,552 children and young people were referred for urgent or emergency crisis care in that three-month period – 80% more than last year and 64% more than 2019, the analysis of data from NHS Digital shows.
Speaking with Pulse, GPs said they were not surprised by the figures and that referring children for CAHMS support was difficult due to limited capacity with referrals frequently rejected.
At the end of June there were 340,694 children in contact with CAMHS, which is 51% higher than before the pandemic.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists urged new education secretary Nadhim Zahawi to make children and young people’s mental health needs a top priority and ensure schools have clear plans in place and to improve the roll-out of Mental Health Support Teams.
Dr Elaine Lockhart, chair of the child and adolescent faculty 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.’
She added: ‘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.’
The College wants to see a national network of early support hubs to provide easy-to-access, drop-in mental health support for young people, on a self-referral basis.
Professor Azeem Majeed, GP and professor of primary care at Imperial College London said figures had shown an increase in the number of children and young adults with mental health problems since the start of the pandemic and factors such as school closures and social isolation will have played a role as well as the stress from they or family members being ill with Covid.
‘Referring children for additional support from CAMHS teams can be difficult. Many referrals are rejected.
‘CAMHS teams have limited capacity, and even for children who are accepted, there are long delays to see a mental health professional.’
He added: ‘Addressing this will be difficult. As well as additional support for CAHMS teams, there is also a need to tackle the wider determinants of mental health in children – such as education, housing, poverty.’
Dr Richard Cook, a GP in West Sussex, said he was seeing large numbers of children with mental health problems and huge waits for any service ‘if they are accepted at all’.
‘We have had a large number of children presenting with eating disorders. We need more services, that are more accessible to young people. Even our local private providers have no capacity.’
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