More than 1.2 million under-18s were referred to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) CAMHS in 2022.
This was an increase of 53% since 2019, when 812,000 children and young people were referred to the services, children’s mental health charity Young Minds warned.
A large number of those are yet to be treated and remain on waiting lists, figures from NHS Digital suggest.
Last year was the second consecutive year of more than a million referrals to CAMHS, supporting concerns that children and young people are struggling more than ever with mental health issues.
Some of the figures published in 2022 are estimates because a cyber attack had impacted data collection.
It follows recent research showing the number of teenage girls seeking help from their GP for an eating disorder has soared in the two years since the pandemic.
That analysis of GP data by researchers at Keele University also found higher levels than expected of self-harm among 13-16-year-old girls since 2020.
Young Minds has called for the Government to take urgent action to address this surge in need with a new plan to introduce more support for young people.
Research by the charity has revealed that the consequences of the pandemic, the cost of living crisis and academic catch up are all contributing to poor mental health among children and young people.
In a survey done at the end of 2022, 53% of young people said money worries were impacting their mental health and 28% said they are still feeling the impact of the pandemic.
Long waiting lists of up to two years in some parts of the country and NHS trusts rejecting referrals from large numbers of children with mental health problems are adding to the problem, the charity said.
Laura Bunt, chief executive of YoungMinds said every day without action is another day thousands of young people are without the mental health support they need.
‘We cannot allow this to be accepted as the new normal, with 1.2 million young people referred to mental health services, and so many going without support.
‘The Government must listen to young people and commit to action that drives down numbers of young people needing support, prioritises early intervention, and properly funds mental health services.’
Dr Victoria Tzortziou-Brown, vice chair of the RCGP, said: ‘While it’s clearly concerning that so many children and young people are struggling with their mental health, increasing rates of referrals to CAMHS could also signify greater societal openness to discussing mental health and a reduced stigma in asking for help.
‘When assessing a child or young person with mental health concerns, GPs will consider the many different factors potentially affecting the individual and agree a treatment plan or onward referral to dedicated services after discussing the options with the patient and their parents, as appropriate.
‘Currently, access can be patchy across the country, referrals are sometimes bounced back, and patients may have to wait too long to get the help they need.’
She added that more widely, the treatment of patients with mental health concerns relies on a ‘robust primary care system’ that has the capacity to respond to patients’ needs.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘We’re continuing to invest in mental health services for children and young people with an additional £2.3bn a year on overall mental health services by 2024.’