Local authority leaders have stressed the importance of investing in community-based services in order to drive improvements in children’s mental health.
An analysis of NHS Digital data by the Royal College of Psychiatrists has found that between April and June this year, 190,271 0–18-year-olds were referred to children and young people’s mental health services. This is up 134% on the same period last year (81,170) and 96% on 2019 (97,342).
Dr Elaine Lockhart, chair of the Faculty of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, pointed to the pandemic as the cause of the increase.
‘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 said.
‘Early intervention is key to recovery. Schools have a critical role to play in this and the education secretary must do all that he can to prioritise pupils’ mental health.
‘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.’
Responding to the findings, Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, chair of the Local Government Association’s (LGA) Children and Young People Board, emphasised that there was a problem before the pandemic.
‘The pandemic has exacerbated existing mental health issues among children but even before this, the number of children referred to mental health services soared by nearly 60% between 2017/18 and 2019/20,’ she said.
Cllr Bramble explained that in order to improve the mental health of children and young people, there needed to be more local investment.
‘Mental health needs to be at the heart of a holistic approach to overall health and wellbeing, including investment in community-based services,’ she said.
‘It is vital that effective and evidence-based mental health and wellbeing services and statutory mental health services for children are able to meet existing, new and unmet demand that has built up during the pandemic to support children and young people to thrive and overcome the challenges presented by COVID-19. The situation must be kept under review going forward to assess any further support needs that may arise.’