53% increase in children needing mental health help

Analysis from the Royal College of Psychiatrists has revealed a significant rise in the number of children and young people under 18 needing emergency care from mental health services (CAMHS).  

In just four years, psychiatrists have seen a 53 per cent increase in the number of children in mental health crisis, who need emergency support. This includes young people who are suicidal, severely depressed and who have an eating disorder. There were 32,521 referrals to CAMHS crisis teams in 2022/23, compared to around 21,242 in 2019/20.  

Many of these children have experienced a deterioration in their mental health while on waiting lists, as over-stretched CAMHS teams struggle to meet record demand.

According to recently reported NHS England data, under-18s who are waiting for follow-up after a GP’s referral have already waited on average five months, and in the worst case, almost two years.

Around half of mental health conditions arise before the age of 14 and three quarters before the age of 24. Many can be prevented if treated early.   

Dr Elaine Lockhart, chair of the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Child and Adolescent Faculty, said:  "It’s unacceptable that so many children and young people are reaching crisis point before they are able to access care. We cannot allow this to become the new norm.  

“Severe mental illness is not just an adult problem, the need for specialist mental health services for children and young people is growing all the time. The evidence shows us that children who receive support quickly are less likely to develop long-term conditions, that negatively affect their education, social development and health in later life.

“Government and Integrated Care Boards must commit to reducing the rate of mental illness among children by setting an achievable target. This needs to be backed by an expansion of the mental health workforce and additional funding for services.  

“Investing in children’s mental health will ultimately free up NHS time and resources, while ensuring the country has a healthy and productive population in the years to come.”