The country is in the midst of a mental health crisis following the COVID-19 pandemic, with children and young people being the hardest hit, the Royal College of Psychiatrists has warned.
A year on from the first lockdown and following repeated warnings from the mental health sector about the impact of the pandemic on the country’s mental health, NHS Digital data shows that while the crisis is affecting people of all ages, it is under-18s who are suffering most.
Dr Bernadka Dubicka, chair of the child and adolescent faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “Our children and young people are bearing the brunt of the mental health crisis caused by the pandemic and are at risk of lifelong mental illness.
“As a frontline psychiatrist I’ve seen the devastating effect that school closures, disrupted friendships and the uncertainty caused by the pandemic have had on the mental health of our children and young people.
“Services were already struggling to cope with the number of children needing help before the pandemic hit, and they risk being overrun unless government ensures the promised money reaches the frontline quickly,” she added.
The Royal College highlights that:
- Nearly 400,000 children and 2.2m adults have sought help for mental health problems during the pandemic
- 1.68m more mental health sessions have been delivered during the pandemic
- 80,226 more children and young people were referred to children and young people’s mental health services between April and December last year, an increase of 28% on 2019, to 372,438.
- 600,628 more treatment sessions were given to children and young people, up by a fifth on 2019 to 3.58 million.
- 18,269 children and young people needed urgent or emergency crisis care - including assessments to see if someone needs to be sectioned because they or others are at harm - an increase of 18% on 2019, to 18,269.
More children than ever before are being treated by eating disorder services and waiting for the care they need. There have also been huge increases in the number of people reporting moderate to severe depressive symptoms, and the number of people reporting loneliness has reached record levels.
The College reveals that while children are the group worst hit, the crisis is affecting adults as well as children. Over one million more treatment sessions were given to adults between April and December last year (1,078,539), an increase of 8% on 2019. There were also 159,347 urgent crisis referrals made for adults, an all-time high, and an increase of 2% on 2019.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists is urging the additional £500 million announced in the government’s mental health recovery plan to urgently reach the frontline so that people can get the support they need. This funding is in addition to the existing planned investment in mental health services set out in the NHS Long Term Plan.
Dr Adrian James, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “The extent of the mental health crisis is terrifying, but it will likely get a lot worse before it gets better.
"Services are at a very real risk of being overrun by the sheer volume of people needing help with their mental illness.
“While the recent funding announcement is welcome, we need this money to reach mental health services as soon as possible to tackle this crisis,” he concluded.