A generation of children could be “failed” because of a lack of adequate mental health support, experts have said.
The Mental Health Network warned that many children could be left without vital support due to shortages which could allow their problems to worsen over time.
Its latest report states that the mental health system for children and young people is reaching a “tipping point” as it faces significant demand.
The pandemic has led to extra pressures which could lead to mental health problems for youngsters including uncertainty and anxiety caused by the lockdowns, school closures, isolation from friends and peers, bereavement and loss, and extra stresses and pressures on families, it said.
The coronavirus crisis has also worsened existing problems of mental health inequalities.
As many as 1.5 million children and young people may need new or additional mental health support as a result of the pandemic, previous analysis suggests.
The authors raised particular concern for those in need of eating disorder services after a huge spike in demand.
In March 2020, there were 237,088 children and young people in contact with mental health services in England compared to 305,802 in February 2021, the Mental Health Network said.
The network, which is part of the NHS Confederation, called on the Government to fully invest in services ahead of the autumn spending review.
It said that while there is pressure on hospital beds in the short term, ministers must consider the longer term and plough funds into early intervention and preventative measures to help children.
And more must done to help plug staffing gaps, it added.
Sean Duggan, chief executive of the Mental Health Network, said: “A generation of children and young people requiring support for their mental health risk being failed because the NHS is not being adequately resourced to support them.
“While health leaders are grateful that investment from the Government has begun, as well as for the prioritisation children and young people’s mental health has been given, the continued toll of the pandemic has shown that it may not be enough to respond to the rising demand for their services. Funding must be both long-term and sustainable.
“We have seen outstanding examples from our members working together to support the mental wellbeing of their younger patients, through both preventative services and inpatient care, but nationally, it is clear we are now at a tipping point.
“Many young people are developing mental health problems as a direct result of the pandemic and with Covid-19 cases expected to rise in the autumn, this is a worrying position to be in.
“Additional and targeted investment is essential, as is a real commitment from the Government to continue expanding and improving services so that we can avoid failing children and young people when they may need help the most.”
A Government spokesperson said: “We are committed to supporting the mental health and wellbeing of our children and young people, investing record funding to transform services.
“Early intervention and treatment is vital and through our Long Term Plan an additional 345,000 children will be able to access NHS-funded mental health support by 2024.
“We know the pandemic has been particularly difficult for young people and our mental health recovery action plan backed by £500 million will support 22,500 more children and young people to access community mental health services.”