Thousands of young people ‘attempt suicide while waiting for NHS treatment’

·4-min read

Thousands of young people have attempted suicide while enduring long waits for mental health treatment, a charity has warned.

New research from YoungMinds on almost 14,000 young people found a quarter (26%) had tried to take their own life as a result of having to wait for help.

The responses have been shared with the Government as part of its call for evidence for a 10-year mental health plan, which the charity says could be in jeopardy as Tory leader candidates have yet to commit to it.

YoungMinds asked children and young people aged 25 and under for their views on accessing help.

More than four in 10 (44%) said they had waited more than a month for mental health support after seeking it and 9% said they were turned away.

More than half (58%) also said their mental health got worse while they were waiting for help.

The most recent NHS data shows 66,389 young people aged 19 and under were referred to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) in April, a 109% rise compared to the same month pre-pandemic.

Some 11,878 youngsters aged 10 to 14 also took antidepressants in 2021/22, NHS data shows, as did 180,455 aged 15 to 19.

This is up from 10,994 and 166,922 the previous year (covering the first year of the pandemic).

The Royal College of Psychiatrists has warned of record waiting lists for help, including for children with eating disorders, saying services are at “crisis point”.

The poll for YoungMinds also found 37% of young people did not feel supported by their GP when they tried to access mental health support or advice.

And more than two-thirds (71%) had problems with their relationships with family and friends as a result of having to wait for treatment.

YoungMinds has launched an End The Wait campaign, calling on the Government to end the “crisis” in young people’s mental health.

Emma Thomas, chief executive of YoungMinds, said: “These numbers paint a shocking picture of the situation young people in this country face when it comes to their mental health.

“We have also seen this reflected in calls to our parents’ helpline, with an increasing number of people saying their child has attempted to take their own life and still isn’t receiving the right care.

“For years, politicians have promised that they will get a grip of the situation, including a recent commitment to a 10-year plan.

“But the reality is that with every month of inaction, things are getting rapidly worse for young people.

“The heartbreaking reality is that referrals to the NHS are continuing to reach record highs but uncertainty in Government means that time and resources are being diverted away from a rapidly escalating mental health crisis for young people. This cannot continue. We will wait no longer.”

Imran Hussain, director of policy and campaigns at Action for Children, said: “These figures reveal the horrifying reality facing so many young people across the country who are being left to experience what are often excruciating waits for mental health support.

“We know from our own mental health services how vital it is to step in early with support before mental health problems escalate. The next prime minister must commit to improving early intervention support as part of their 10-year plan to help stop these issues in their tracks.”

Shadow mental health minister Rosena Allin-Khan said: “Our children’s futures can’t be put at risk because the Government continues to ignore the rising demand for mental health services and the crisis in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services.

“Labour will bring waiting times down by recruiting 8,500 new mental health staff and by guaranteeing treatment within a month.

“We know that early intervention is crucial to addressing mental illness in children, which is why, under the next Labour government, there will be access to a mental health professional in every school, and an open access hub in every community.”

A Government spokesman said: “The death of every young person is a tragedy and the impact on families can be devastating, and we are taking action to give children and young people access to safe, appropriate care.

“Over 22,000 more children and young people have received access to community mental health services, thanks to our additional £79 million investment into children’s mental health services last year.

“Since 2018, we have seen an increase in NHS staff working in children and young people’s mental health and we are investing in mental health services so that nearly 350,000 more children and young people can access NHS mental health support in England by mid-2024.”

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