The response to a Freedom of Information request has shown that waiting times for mental health services for children in the UK are spiraling.
A worsening situation
As the pressure on the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK reaches breaking point, new figures indicate that children who require mental health treatment must wait longer to get the support they need.
As reported by The Daily Mirror, some children are left waiting hundreds of days for treatment, falling into a black hole and left in a state of limbo to deal with their condition.
In August 2022, one young person had been waiting 1,512 days to get support in Norfolk, while another had a wait of 1,113 days in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight as of June 2022.
Of the 29 local authorities that responded to the Freedom of Information request made by the Liberal Democrat political party, eight areas admitted average waits for mental health services exceeded 100 days.
Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Munira Wilson branded the situation as “disgraceful” and said that “children in dire need of help had been left to suffer.”
Childrens’mental health declining
The number of children needing treatment for severe mental health problems (including depression, anxiety, and eating disorders) has risen sharply over the past year.
NHS data analyzed by the PA news agency shows a 39% jump in mental health referrals for under-18s in England to more than 1.1 million in 2021/22. This compares to 839,570 the previous year and 850,741 referrals in 2019/20.
Meanwhile, separate NHS Digital data found that hospital admissions for eating disorders are also rising. There were 7,719 admissions in 2021/22 among under-18s, up from 6,079 the previous year and 4,232 in 2019/20. This represents an increase of 82% over two years.
Speaking about the results and the overall situation, Munira Wilson said,
“The Government must not allow this postcode lottery to continue. Children right across the country in dire need of help have been left suffering. This shame can only be placed at Conservative Ministers’ doors.
Parents, carers, and families are currently being stuck in the awful position of being unable to access mental health services for their children. It is disgraceful that the Government has not acted on this issue.”
What do others have to say?
On the back of the response to the Freedom of Information request, others have piled into the debate. Olly Parker, the spokesperson for the charity, YoungMinds, said it was utterly unacceptable that any young person should face such long waits for treatment.
Speaking to the Daily Mirror, Mr Parker said,
“We know that last year has been one of the most difficult for young people, emerging from the pandemic to more limited prospects for their futures, coupled with an increase in academic pressure to catch up on lost learning and the impact of the cost of living crisis.
Record numbers are seeking mental health support, but too many are being told to wait, struggling to cope and hitting crisis point before they get help.”
Meanwhile, the children’s charity, the NSPCC, said,
“Ten of thousands of children and young people are turning to the NSPCC’s Childline service every year as they struggle with serious mental health issues, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts and feelings. Many have told our counselors they were on the waiting list for statutory support.
The Government must ensure that through the 10-Year Mental Health Plan there is sufficient investment in the NHS so it can quickly provide help to children and young people in need of professional mental health support.”
Further action cannot be delayed
As the apparent crisis in the NHS worsens, many demographic groups are suffering as a result. Children appear to be one of those groups, as the demand for mental health services is resulting in longer waiting times, exacerbating the issue further.
It is also apparent that children in some areas have longer waiting times than others, thereby reducing the provision of mental health services to something akin to a postcode lottery – where you live, effectively dictating the length of wait you might face. This system could see the most vulnerable being cast adrift while others with less severe symptoms are seen earlier.
At My Mind News, we advocate that all who require mental health support should be able to access it within a timescale that suits them. However, as the strain on the NHS in the UK grows, we appear to be drifting away from achieving such a situation, which puts even more pressure on other services, such as the NSPCC, as they step into the gap to help wherever they can.
If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, please see our ‘Get Help’ pages for further support.