Roughly 1 in 4 under-18s referred to NHS mental health services before the pandemic were not contacted by health workers, with the same number not receiving any treatment at all before their referral was closed, new data reveals
Since the beginning of the pandemic, reports of rising mental health concerns among young people – from school children through to teenagers through to higher education students – have been rife. The isolation many have had from their families and loved ones taking a significant toll on their mental wellbeing.
As restrictions have gradually lifted, the collective psychological impact of the pandemic has been confirmed by a rise in demand for NHS services. Indeed, the number of young people referred for professional mental health support sharply increased by a third between 2019/20 and 2020/21.
Although the figures are a very real present and future cause for concern, mental health services for young people had been under scrutiny for years prior to the pandemic, with many believing that the support provided was simply not up to scratch.
And new figures published by the NHS Digital seem to support this view. According to 2019/20 data, up to half of all young people referred to mental health, learning disability and autism services received inadequate support. Of the 547,590 under-18s referred to these services, 23% had no contact from health workers to deliver or support their care, while 26% of the group had their referrals closed without receiving any treatment.
In some cases, young people were recommended social care instead or they were passed on to charities. Some were refused any care at all due to service capacity limitations.
Evidence of a mental health crisis?
In the UK, NHS mental health services dedicated to helping young people are grouped under the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). Referrals can be made to CAMHS by doctors, carers, teachers, parents, and young people themselves if they're old enough.
For some time now, increases to CAMHS funding have been promised in light of growing demand for services across the country. In 2015, the government announced a roughly £250 million per year investment increase.
Yet the increased funding has never quite translated into the real-world improvements it promised. In England, a survey of 35 NHS trust leaders revealed that many areas of the country had seen a significant increase in demand for youth mental health services, which many trusts were struggling to meet.
A similar scenario has unfolded in Scotland, with data released in June by Public Health Scotland showing that the number of young people waiting over a year for specialist mental health services had increased almost three-fold over the past 12 months.
The ongoing issues with services for young people has been suggested as a symptom of a broader 'crisis' in mental health services, with many taking aim at mental health minister Nadine Dorries for the problems at hand.
But, despite previously commenting on research of teenage cases of depression and anxiety doubling during the pandemic as 'illuminating', Dorries recently refused to acknowledge the existence of a much wider issue.
She tweeted that “we are not in the middle of a MH crisis” and that “we lead the world in the delivery of [mental health] services."
Dorries has since deactivated her Twitter account in the wake of widespread backlash in response to these statements.
Written by Sylvie Ward
News reporter for Talking Mental Health