School Referrals For Children's Mental Health Treatment Rise By A Third, NSPCC Reveals

Worryingly, 183 referrals are made every school day and most come from primary schools.

The number of referrals by schools seeking mental health treatment for pupils has increased by over a third in the last three years, the NSPCC has revealed.

Through a Freedom of Information request to NHS Trusts in England, the charity found schools had made 123,713 referrals seeking professional help for pupils from NHS Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) since 2014-15.

There were 25,140 referrals in 2014-15 and 34,757 in 2017-18 - the equivalent of 183 every school day.

The figures don’t tell the whole story as some of the Trusts didn’t provide information for all four years, so the charity expects the actual number of referrals to be “much higher”. The NSPCC’s Childline service has also seen a 26% increase in the number of counselling sessions with children about mental health issues in the same time period.

Dame Esther Rantzen, founder and president of Childline said: “Young people are telling us they are overwhelmed with mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, which is taking many of them to the brink of suicide.”

Worryingly most referrals (56%) came from primary schools.
sturti via Getty Images
Worryingly most referrals (56%) came from primary schools.

The news follows a Select Committees report from last week, which found that the government’s £300m plans to improve mental health provision for children “lacks ambition and will provide no help to the majority of children who desperately need it.”

The NSPCC found in their FOI request that most referrals (56%) came from primary schools. They say this could be a result of a lack of funding and services to support children in those settings.

Nearly a third (31%) of referrals from schools to CAMHS over the last three years were declined treatment as they did not meet the criteria for support.

The charity is warning that increased demand for support across specialist CAMHS, schools and the voluntary sector is placing the system under real pressure, jeopardising the wellbeing of thousands of children. They say this has shone a light on the “urgent need” for a broader range of support for children’s mental health needs.

Commenting on the findings, Dr Max Davie, officer for health promotion for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) said the statistics further highlight the pressures mental health services are under in England today. “What’s particularly concerning, is the fact that 56% of referrals came from primary schools,” he said. “Paediatricians working in the community have also noted a surge in referrals for emotional and behavioural difficulties, often once CAMHS have rejected the referral.

“At the universal level, we need Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) at all primary and secondary schools, so that children can self-manage better. But only a system-wide overhaul of agencies concerned with children’s mental health will allow us to identify children developing mental health problems and allow for assessment of need and appropriate multi-agency support.”

The NSPCC’s Are You There? campaign is calling on the government to invest funding into early support services for children. “Our counsellors are literally saving lives, and it concerns us that we cannot help every child who desperately needs us,” said Rantzen. “We must make sure that Childline is adequately funded so it isn’t left vulnerable and can be there for the children who have nowhere else to turn.”

Last week the NSPCC and four of their young campaigners handed in a petition of 22,411 signatures to Number 10 Downing Street to call for increased funding to Childline.

For more information and support:

PAPYRUS: Children and parents can contact HOPELineUK for advice and support. It is confidential and you will not be judged. Call 0800 0684141, text 07786209697 or email

Childline: Remind your child that Childline is there to give them free, confidential support and advice, 24 hours a day on 0800 1111 or at

YoungMinds: The parents helpline offers free, confidential online and telephone support, including information and advice, to any adult worried about the emotional problems, behaviour or mental health of a child or young person up to the age of 25. Call 0808 8025544.

Before You Go

Song Writing

Hobbies That Improve Mental Health