Youths with mental health problems are being forced to wait for more than three years for help in a "creaking" system which cannot cope with the rise in referrals.
The shocking statistics, revealed by The Times following a series of Freedom of Information requests, found young people are also being sent hundreds of miles from home for treatment due to a lack of hospital beds.
The number of referrals to child and adolescent mental health services increased by more than 6% between 2013 and 2014, according to the data gathered from 26 mental health trusts.
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The current recommended maximum waiting time is 19 weeks. The Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, which also covers Kent and Hampshire, said the longest waits in Kent were 169 and 176 weeks — almost three and a half years.
Sarah Brennan, chief executive of the charity Young Minds, said: "Children’s and adolescent mental health services are creaking at the seams as they are being hit with increased referrals at the same time as cutbacks to their services."
Norman Lamb, the care and support minister, said: "It’s completely unacceptable for children and young people to wait years for treatment sometimes hundreds of miles from home — we wouldn’t accept this for physical health."
Useful websites and helplines:
- Samaritans, open 24 hours a day, on 08457 90 90 90
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
- Young Minds offers information to young people about mental health and emotional wellbeing
- Students Against Depression, a website by students, for students.
- HopeLine runs a confidential advice helpline if you are a young person at risk of suicide or are worried about a young person at risk of suicide. Mon-Fri 10-5pmand 7pm-10pm. Weekends 2pm-5pm on 0800 068 41 41
- HeadMeds - a straight-talking website on mental health medication
- Student Minds supports students across the UK to bring about positive change on their campuses through campaigning and facilitating peer support programmes. To join the community or launch a student group contact the charity on firstname.lastname@example.org