Drop-in mental health centres for children must be established in the wake of the pandemic, a coalition of charities and royal colleges has demanded.
They said a major investment in help for Britain’s youth was needed amid an “alarming” rise in psychiatric problems following repeated lockdowns.
Stephen Fry, the broadcaster and president of mental health charity Mind, is among those calling on Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, to invest in children’s services in the forthcoming Comprehensive Spending Review.
Research last year found that more than one in six children aged five to 16 has a diagnosable mental health problem – up from one in nine before the pandemic.
Mental health children
Updated figures published on Wednesday are expected to detail the impact of further school closures and lockdowns on mental wellbeing among those growing up in the shadow of Covid-19.
Services have been left ‘significantly overstretched’
In the letter to the Telegraph, leaders from more than 50 organisations including the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP), the Samaritans and YoungMinds warn that services have been left “significantly overstretched” and cannot keep up with demand.
“Fewer than 40 per cent of those under the age of 17 with a mental health condition are able to access NHS help,” they said, in a plea for urgent action.
The charities are calling on the Government to invest in a national network of drop-in centres so any child who feels troubled can access care without having to be referred.
“Providing such support would ensure that a young person does not need to reach crisis point before they get help, and would also reduce pressure on NHS services,” they said.
Their letter follows a campaign by the Telegraph for children to be prioritised as the country recovers from repeated lockdowns, including action by the Government to address the harm caused.
More than 2,000 children a day are being referred to NHS mental health services, twice as many as before the pandemic, official data shows.
A record 190,000 under-18s were referred for treatment and support in the three months from April to June. In 2019 the figure was 97,342 and last year it fell to 81,170, with many delaying seeking help at the height of the pandemic.
The RCP said its analysis, released last week, showed how “children and young people are suffering terribly” with rises in depression, anxiety and eating disorders.
Young people ‘self-harming to cope’
Urgent referrals had also risen steeply. From April to June in 2019, 5,219 children and young people were referred for urgent care. This rose to 8,552 in 2021, the college said.
A recent survey by Mind of almost 12,000 people, many with pre-existing mental health problems, found that almost one in three young people self-harmed to cope during the past year.
Five ways children’s lives have been made worse by the pandemic
Half of teenagers have been left suffering anxiety and trauma in the wake of lockdowns, research found.
A systematic review into the impact of school closures by University College London found that 53 per cent of girls and 44 per cent of boys aged 13 to 18 were found to be suffering from trauma or PTSD in the months after the first lockdown. Sixty per cent of boys and 50 per cent of girls of the same age were classed as suffering from anxiety.
The RCP said the pandemic had caused a mental health crisis among children, with school closures having had a "devastating" impact.
NHS leaders have said five-year-olds have been left suffering panic attacks about meeting their friends, with warnings of an explosion in “locked-in trauma” across the country.
Calculations by the Centre for Mental Health state that an extra 1.5 million children and young people will require mental health support “as a direct impact of the pandemic” during the next three to five years.
A Government spokesman said: “We are committed to expanding and transforming mental health services in England, backed by an additional £2.3 billion a year by 2023/24, meaning an additional 345,000 children and young people per year will be able to access NHS-funded services.
“To address the impacts of the pandemic, we have provided an additional £79 million through our Mental Health Recovery Action Plan to accelerate the expansion of children and young people’s mental health services including through community services.”