Children and young people with mental health issues are being turned away from NHS services and up to 110,000 are missing out on treatment in a year, according to new figures by The Children’s Society.
The report, Finding Help – Children, Young People and Families Navigating the System, based on Freedom of Information responses from 26 mental health trusts across England, estimates that up to 110,000 10-17 year olds seeking help are being turned away because their problems were not deemed ‘serious’ enough. Worryingly, it means that due to high treatment thresholds many young people may never have their needs addressed and are more likely to reach crisis point.
The report also finds that a third (32%) of parents of children between the ages of 4 and 17 said their child had been affected by a mental health issue in the last year and 2 in 5 of those parents had sought help but not received any support. Many of these children will likely have had problems with their emotional and mental health that were not diagnosable conditions or would not have met clinical thresholds but parents were still concerned about these issues to report them in the survey or seek help.
Two in three parents (64%) surveyed said that if they were concerned about their child’s mental health they would initially go to their GP to seek help. However, due to high thresholds for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) they may not qualify for treatment. Just under a third of parents were unaware if counselling was available in their child’s school.
Based on a Freedom of Information request the charity estimates that as many as 185,000 young people aged 10-17 were referred to specialist mental health services in 2017 and only 79,000 received treatment in the same year. As a result, around 60% of those referred, or almost 110,000 children, are not receiving care for their mental health problems.
For those children with the most serious need NHS waiting times remain stubbornly high with children waiting the equivalent of a school term, an average 12 weeks (or 83 days), from referral to treatment when the current waiting time standard is four weeks. The report found in some areas children experiencing issues such as anxiety, depression and self-harm are having to wait much longer – up to 364 days from referral to first treatment.
The Government is piloting more mental health support in schools but as little as one fifth of the country will benefit from the planned pilot schemes, meaning the current postcode lottery will continue for the foreseeable future.
The Children’s Society is urging the government to make it a mandatory requirement for Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) to provide mental health support in every school and college in the country for children with low to moderate mental health needs, as well as support within the community through services like open access hubs and digital offers, to ensure young people are able to access support at an early stage.
Sam Royston, Director of Policy and Research at The Children’s Society, said: “It’s a scandal that so many children and young people are suffering with their mental health are not getting the support they need, either by being deemed too well for treatment, having to wait many months, or having no early intervention alternatives available, meaning they are likely to become more unwell and hit crisis point.
“The NHS estimates that one in eight children are experiencing mental ill health, but we see that as many as one in three parents have been worried about their child’s mental health over the last year. Families are reliant on their GP and schools for help but a third of parents don’t even know if their school can offer any mental health support so are often going to the wrong places, getting rejected because they aren’t meeting treatment thresholds and are receiving no further advice or guidance.
“For those young people with the most serious need NHS waiting times for CAMHS remain shockingly high and we urge the government to ensure all children and young people can get immediate help when they need it – at their school or at a local community drop-in centre – so they have an opportunity to talk about how they are feeling and not made to suffer in silence.”