Children living with mental health problems are missing out on treatment until they’ve reached crisis point and, in some cases, are only seen by professionals after they have attempted suicide, a new documentary reveals.
In some cases, young people in need of help have made multiple attempts on their life before successfully accessing care, the Association of Child Psychotherapists told BBC Panorama.
A letter leaked to the programme, due to be shown on Monday evening, reveals that at least one child and adolescent mental health service (CAMHS) has been forced to ration care this year.
“We do hear stories of children and young people having to have attempted suicide on a number of occasions actually before they are seen within the service. The problem is that then they’re very ill and it actually becomes increasingly difficult to offer them an effective treatment,” the Association’s Nick Waggett told Panorama.
While the number of children visiting A&E for mental health treatment has more than doubled since 2010, many areas fail to provide 24/7 crisis services.
A BBC freedom of Information request showed that at least 1.5m under-18s in England live in areas without round the clock child mental health care.
The figures are revealed against a backdrop of pressure on public health funding.
Dr Jon Goldin, of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said the system can’t meet demand: “I have colleagues working all over the country who are … doing excellent work, the trouble is the services are very stretched we’re not meeting the need so in that sense it’s not fit for purpose.”
When 14-year-old Jess developed anxiety three years ago, she was refused help from a service in her area of Sussex, and her symptoms quickly worsened.
She tried to kill herself and went to A&E where she was finally seen by health professionals and offered treatment.
By this stage she was so ill she had developed psychosis, and eventually had to be sectioned for nine months.
An average child mental health inpatient stay costs £61,000.
Jess told Panorama how she felt during this time: “I’m never gonna get better, I’m gonna stay in this dark hole for my whole life and eventually I’m gonna do it, I’m gonna take my life.”
Jess’s mum, Claire, said: “There are no resources, there’s no one offering any support emotionally or physically … it was just a shut door every time.
“My child was completely failed.”
The government said it is investing an extra £1.4bn in child mental health services. Luciana Berger, Labour’s former shadow mental health minister, told Panorama that NHS commissioners are using the money to prop up other services.
Berger said: “In too many cases that money just isn’t reaching the frontline. Young people’s mental health budgets for too long have been raided to pay for other parts of our National Health Service and we all know the pressures that our NHS is under but I believe urgently we need to see those monies protected and ring-fenced.”
Sussex Partnership NHS Trust, which treated Jess, said: “Our teams work extremely hard to help families access the right support for the difficulties they are facing. If a child or young person doesn’t meet the criteria for the specialist mental health services we are commissioned to provide, we will guide them towards support which is available from other organisations.”
The Department of Health and Social Care said: “We are transforming mental health services for children and young people … so that 70,000 more children a year have access to specialist mental health care by 2020/21.
“We are completely committed to achieving parity between physical and mental health as part of our long-term plan for the NHS.”
‘Panorama: Kids In Crisis’, Monday 24 September, 8.30pm, BBC1
Useful websites and helplines:
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
- The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
CORRECTION: This article was corrected on 24 September to amend a reference to Luciana Berger. Berger is Labour’s former shadow mental health minister, not shadow health minister.