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More Than Half A Million Kids Have Been Referred To Mental Health Services, And This Is Just The Tip Of The Iceberg

For the first time NHS Digital included kids in its annual Mental Health Bulletin.

30/11/2017 16:27 GMT | Updated 01/12/2017 10:40 GMT

Children’s mental health statistics have been included in NHS Digital’s annual Mental Health Bulletin for the first time.

The report includes a breakdown of statistics on the number of kids and young people who have been referred to NHS-funded secondary mental health, autism and learning disabilities services in England. 

Out of the 2.6 million people known to have been referred to these three services in 2016/17, 556,790 were under 18. 

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However, the report hinted that the actual number of children accessing thee services may be greater as the authors believe “the statistics may undercount people aged under 18”. 

“It is likely that the level of coverage of mental health services for children and young people in the source of these statistics is good, but lower than that for adult mental health or learning disabilities and autism services,” the report stated.

This is because data submissions were not received from around 25% of the expected organisations providing services for children and young people.

The report stated: “We are working closely with providers who have not yet submitted data and expect coverage and data quality to increase for this area in future submissions.”

The report looked at the ages of children most likely to be in contact with these services and compared them by gender.

The results revealed that among children aged 14 to 18, girls were more likely to be in contact with secondary support services than boys.

And 16-to 17-year-old girls were most likely to have been referred to mental health, learning disabilities and autism services, out of all young people.

However within the “under 14” age group, boys were approximately a third more likely to be in contact with mental health, learning disabilities and autism services (as shown in the chart below). 

NHS Digital

Mental health and autism charities contacted by HuffPost UK stated that it would be difficult to comment on the reasons for this gender shift, as the report did not differentiate between referrals for the three different services - mental health, autism and learning difficulties.

NHS Digital stated they grouped the figures to include mental health, learning disability and autism services because many people who have a learning disability or autism use mental health services and people in learning disabilities and autism services may also have a mental health problem.

This means a single referral may include contact with either type of service.

Commenting on the statistics for young people, Matt Blow, policy manager at YoungMinds told HuffPost UK he was “pleased” to see the annual report has included data on children and mental health for the first time.

“Children and young people’s mental health is at crisis point, and with 50% of all life-long mental health problems first appearing by the age of 14, it’s vital that mental health support is provided as soon as possible to those who need it,” he said. 

“The last in-depth national prevalence study of children’s mental health was carried out in 2004, before the rise of social media. The Government needs to commit to commissioning regular, in-depth prevalence studies to identify risk factors and trends over time, and to ensure that mental health services are commissioned based on an accurate picture of need.” 

Sarah Lambert, head of policy and public affairs at the National Autistic Society, said: “Due to the fact the Government doesn’t regularly record a person’s autism diagnosis, it is hard for the National Autistic Society to comment on these figures, as they may not accurately reflect the autistic population. This is something we campaigned for during our Autism Diagnosis crisis campaign and we’re pleased to say that the Government has now publicly committed to collecting and publishing autism diagnosis and diagnosis waiting times in England from April 2018. 

“However, research suggests that 71% of autistic children develop mental health problems in their childhood, despite autism not being a mental health condition. This can often happen if the support that an autistic child needs is not available, and can impact on a child’s wellbeing and education. In fact, our recent education report that we launched alongside the All Party Parliamentary Group on Autism revealed that over 50% of autistic children are not happy at school. 

“Far too many autistic people in England are living with avoidable mental health problems, if we can provide the right support for autistic people from the beginning, we can ensure their lives can be transformed. It is therefore essential that the Government ensures all autistic children are provided with the right mental health support and that a national autism and education strategy is put in place.” 

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