31/10/2018 17:14 GMT | Updated 31/10/2018 19:03 GMT

Children ‘Think They Won’t Get Mental Health Help Unless They Attempt Suicide’

Children's Commissioner says young people are "very aware" about gaps in services.

Suicidal children believe they will not be able to get mental health support unless they have made an attempt on their life, the Children’s Commissioner for England has said. 

Speaking about the gaps in mental health support for young people, Anne Longfield said children are “very aware” about how hard it can be to access services – with many telling her how they have been turned down for help. 

“I’ve been really shocked by the fact that children see it quite normal to say to me: ’I know that just feeling suicidal isn’t enough to get me help. I have to have actually tried to take my own life,” she told Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee on Wednesday. 

Figures suggest that just a quarter of children and young people who require mental health support can access the services they require, amid rising levels of need.

An investigation by the Education Policy Institute earlier this year found that referrals to children’s mental health services have spiked by 26% over the past five years. 

“There’s a huge number of children who will be ending up at the point where they get referred for specialist help – often by a GP – there’s a bit of a black hole there and then they’re turned away,” Longfield said, adding that even those who go forward for treatment can still face a gap in provision. 

“We know, at the moment, three quarters of children will be in that situation and actually even in five years it will be two thirds of children, which obviously is very, very high.” 

Asked whether there is a crisis in children’s mental health support, she told the committee: “Certainly for those children who can’t get help, there is a crisis. And again, children come through my door time and time again to tell me that.” 

While the government has pledged an additional £1.4 billion for children and young people’s mental health services between 2016/17 and 2020/21, aiming to treat an extra 70,000 patients a year, Longfield said more must be done to tackle the issue. 

Calling for a change in the “scale of ambition” from the government, the Children’s Commissioner added: “I’d like to see a trained professional in every school – just something we can rely on and know. And if we can do that, we can stem problems developing so you can actually bring down the number of children who are needing to go for more serious help.” 

In his Autumn Budget on Monday, Chancellor Philip Hammond pledged £2bn funding for mental health services, with the money set to be spent in part on young people’s mental health crisis teams in each part of the country. 

But Longfield – along with Kadra Abdinasir, policy officer at the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition – warned that the cash injection must also be spent on early intervention in the community in order to reduce the number of children presenting to mental health professionals at “crisis point”.

A Department for Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We want more children to have access to mental health services and are on track to ensure that 70,000 more children a year have access to specialist mental health care by 2020/21, backed by £1.05 billion this year alone.

“We have plans to improve access to mental health services through schools with a brand new dedicated workforce, and to pilot a four week waiting time standard in some areas so we can better understand how to reduce waiting times.”

Useful websites and helplines:

Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 UK and Ireland (this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill).

You can call Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393.

Get Connected is a free advice service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: help@getconnected.org.uk

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. Monday-Friday 10-5pm and 7pm-10pm. Weekends 2pm-5pm on 0800 068 41 41.

Maytree is a sanctuary for the suicidal in north London in a non-medical setting. For help or to enquire about a stay, call 020 7263 7070.

Rape Crisis services for women and girls who have been raped or have experienced sexual violence - 0808 802 9999
Survivors UK offers support for men and boys - 0203 598 3898