Children ‘bearing the brunt’ of mental health crisis, analysis finds

Nearly 400,000 children and more than two million adults sought help for mental health problems during the pandemic with nearly 1.7m more mental health sessions delivered, analysis of NHS Digital data has found.

09/04/21

Children ‘bearing the brunt’ of mental health crisis, analysis finds

Children and young people are “bearing the brunt” of the mental health crisis caused by the pandemic, new analysis by the Royal College of Psychiatrists has found.

Analysing NHS Digital data, a year on from the first lockdown, the College discovered that while the crisis is affecting people of all ages, it is under-18s who are suffering most.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists’ analysis observed that over 80,000 more children and young people were referred to Children and Young People’s (CYP) mental health services between April and December last year, up by 28% from the previous year.

The analysis also found that over 600,000 more treatment sessions were given to children and young people, up by a fifth on 2019 to 3.58 million.

More than 18,269 children and young people also needed urgent or emergency crisis care – including assessments to see if someone needs to be sectioned – an increase of 18% on 2019.

The data also showed more children than ever before are being treated by eating disorder services and waiting for the care they need.

Dr Bernadka Dubicka, Chair of the Child and Adolescent Faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said that, as a result of the pandemic, children were 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,” Dr Dubicka said.

“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.”

The crisis was also seen affecting adults as well as children, with more than one million more treatment sessions given to adults between April and December last year (1,078,539).

There were also 159,347 urgent crisis referrals made for adults, an all-time high, and an increase of 2% on 2019.

Also found in the data were substantial increases in the number of people reporting ‘moderate to severe’ depressive symptoms, while the number of people reporting being lonely has reached record levels.

Dr Adrian James, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said the extent of the crisis was “terrifying”, adding that the situation will “likely get a lot worse before it gets better.”

“Services are at a very real risk of being overrun by the sheer volume of people needing help with their mental illness. “

As a result of the findings, the Royal College of Psychiatrists is calling for the additional £500 million in the Government’s mental health recovery plan to “urgently reach the frontline” so that people can get the support they need, on top of the existing planned investment in mental health services set out in the NHS Long Term Plan.

“While the recent funding announcement is welcome, we need this money to reach mental health services as soon as possible to tackle this crisis,” Dr James said.

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