THE BLOG
13/10/2015 13:01 BST | Updated 13/10/2016 06:12 BST

Fears of Mental Health 'Time Bomb'

For children suffering from the overwhelming and devastating emotional effects of abuse, every second without support can feel like an eternity.

This week we have highlighted the difficulties large numbers of abused children face accessing support through local NHS mental health services. These services do an amazing job helping extremely distressed children, helping to turn around lives. But all too often they are unable to offer the therapeutic support needed by many abused children. We know from what children tell us that even when they receive a service, sometimes after an agonisingly long wait, it isn't always appropriate to their needs.

The damage caused by abuse can be insidious, wide-ranging and impact on almost every aspect of a victim's life. While some effects are almost immediate, others may take longer to materialise. Emotional difficulties such as anger, anxiety, sadness or low self-esteem, or mental health conditions such as depression, eating disorders or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are well documented. Victims can feel trapped by disturbing thoughts, emotions and memories associated with their trauma. One study found that those sexually abused in childhood were more than twice as likely to consider committing suicide in later life.

It doesn't need to be like that. Every day we are in contact with children whose lives are being turned around. If the right sort of trauma-based therapeutic support is provided early on in their difficult journey, they can successfully move forward and re-build their childhood before chronic conditions take root.

When children don't get the right support after they have been abused, or try to cope alone, the difficulties they experience can develop and snowball into acute and dangerous issues, sometimes decades later. It is vital children get help before this can happen, as their problems can become entrenched and more challenging to address.

If the abuse scandals of recent years have taught us anything it is that we must listen to children when they call for help. There needs to be a greater provision of services that meet the particular needs of abused children, whether they are helped through the NHS, local authorities or charities.

Tragically, we know that large numbers of children who have been abused are only able to access services when they reach crisis point or after years of suffering - when they finally reach rock bottom and can't take any more as adults. This has to change. Last year, around 5,000 abused children whose mental health was suffering as a result of their horrific experiences called ChildLine. More and more children are telling us about problems accessing services.

The NSPCC estimates that one in 20 children in the UK have been sexually abused. With record police recording of sexual crimes against children, and with many children struggling to access timely and appropriate support, the consequences for victims and society as a whole are stark. We must not wait any longer in ensuring children who've suffered abuse get the specialist support they desperately need, once they've taken the incredibly brave step of speaking out.

Police forces in the UK recorded 36,429 sexual offences against children in 2013-14. This was the highest level in the past decade. Many of these police cases will still be working their way through the system and each child affected will be in desperate need of support. We also know that recorded child sexual offences are just the tip of the iceberg. For every child identified there will be many more suffering in silence.

CAMHS are just one part of a complex jigsaw of services picking up the pieces following abuse, and if NHS services aren't meeting the needs of children whose lives have been turned upside down, we must ensure they can be quickly helped elsewhere. Now that more and more victims of abuse are coming forward it has never been more urgent for the Government to increase the capacity of therapeutic services that are able to help abused children. We must see improvements in access to child friendly trauma-based support that meet their needs, when they need it, and help them recover wherever they live. Failing to act risks creating a time bomb of mental health problems in the years to come.