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Half of all young people referred to mental health services left without support

New data from NHS Digital shows that almost half of all children and teenagers referred to mental health, learning disability and autism services before the pandemic received no contact, or had their cases closed without receiving treatment.

20/07/21

Half of all young people referred to mental health services left without support

Almost half of all young people referred to mental health, learning disability and autism services before the pandemic did not receive proper support, new data shows.

The latest figures from NHS Digital shows that almost a quarter (23%) of the 547,590 under-18s referred to NHS mental health, learning disability and autism services in 2019-20 had no contact from health workers to deliver care, or had meetings with professionals to support their care.

A further 26% had their referrals closed without receiving treatment – instead being passed onto charities, told they needed social care instead or refused support due to insufficient capacity.

The new data is particularly alarming given that provisional data revealed last month showed a record number of referrals to child and adolescent mental health services in March this year – doubled the number from the previous year and 68% higher than March 2019.

Dr Elaine Lockhart, Chair of the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Faculty of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, told the Guardian that the rise was “heartbreaking”.

“Children and young people’s mental health has been neglected for years and in the meantime, we know that the need is increasing. We were already struggling to meet demand before the pandemic. But the pandemic has absolutely resulted in increase in mental health disorders in children and young people.”

“It is difficult to consider these numbers and know that behind each one is a child or young person, and a family, who are in distress.”

Last week, a coalition of health and education experts committed to making mental health and wellbeing a central part of education recovery plans in education settings across England, as the Government’s Mental Health in Education Action Group convened for the final time.

Co-chaired by Universities Minister Michelle Donelan and Children and Families Minister Vicky Ford, the action group also included Mental Health Minister Nadine Dorries, Youth Mental Health Ambassador Dr Alex George, and representatives from leading mental health and education organisations.

Children and Families Minister Vicky Ford said the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people “must remain a priority”.

“I’m proud of the progress our Mental Health in Education Action Group has made these past months in making sure education settings can access the significant support and investment we have provided for wellbeing.

“I want to encourage all school leaders to explore what’s available to them and their pupils over the summer and into next term, so we can work together to support children to build back better from the pandemic.”

Dr Alex George, former Love Island contestant and the Government’s Youth Mental Health Ambassador, said: “Being in a safe and understanding environment is important now, more than ever, and all children need to know that their mental health matters.”

The ‘action group’ committed to more senior mental health lead training, boosted by an extra £9.5 million for schools and colleges to use from September, more Mental Health Support Teams to support nearly three million children by 2023, and a ‘Suicide Prevention’ roundtable held with Universities UK, which will further support higher education providers to care for their students experiencing mental health issues.

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