Children facing catastrophically long waits for mental health support
Worrying new figures show that far too many children are facing unacceptable waiting times for the mental health support they desperately need.
Speed is critical when dealing with mental health conditions, but children and young people are facing an average wait of 60 days before receiving any treatment. The report by the Education Policy Institute found that the longest wait for treatment in England last year was 188 days.
Average waiting times for young people are currently twice as long as the Government’s newly proposed standard of four weeks.
The study found that it took an average of 34 days for children to receive an initial consultation, and almost double that before they actually got any treatment.
Experts suggest that long waits, on top of pre-existing mental health problems, can cause significant damage and make it harder for a child to recover. Therapist at Welldoing, Pat Capel, explains why it’s important to act quickly when it comes to children.
‘We all know that the earlier we notice and treat mental health, the better the long term prognosis,’ Pat tells Metro.co.uk. ‘By denying children and adolescents quick access to efficient mental health services, we are potentially condemning them to a very difficult adult life.
‘Untreated mental health in children can result in them, as adults, finding it difficult to access meaningful employment or to form meaningful relationships.
‘This will lead to further instability and place an even bigger burden on society. We owe it to the youth to look after their future.’
These delays are particularly concerning as the number of children being referred to mental health services grows. Referrals have increased by 26% over the past five years, and the waiting times suggest that services are feeling the strain.
Rejection rates are also high, with one in four children turned away from mental health services altogether. Most of these rejections happen because the authorities decide that a child’s condition is not serious enough to warrant special treatment.
The study shows that almost 56,000 children were rejected from mental health services last year alone.
One of these children was 13-year-old Kieran. Kieran was diagnosed with autism because of social and behavioural problems, but getting the treatment he needs has been an ongoing battle, and much of the burden falls on his mum Kristine.
Kristine says that after waiting for more than nine months for a CAMHS referral, the NHS’s Children and Adolescent Mental Health Service, they were turned away from treatment.
‘He gets frustrated and he suffers with anxiety in situations he can’t control. He puts himself down and feels bad about himself. He also lashes out. So I asked for a referral to CAMHS.
‘After nine months of waiting and hearing nothing, I finally found out that CAHMS wouldn’t take him on.’
Kieran was rejected because he wasn’t self-harming or suicidal, so wasn’t deemed a serious enough case for treatment. But Kristine thinks the threshold for getting help shouldn’t be so extreme.
‘He’s getting bigger, he’s stronger,’ Kristine tells us. ‘When he has these outbursts he’s going to do more damage.’
‘Children are being failed. They shouldn’t have to get to the point of suicidal thoughts before they get help, we should be stopping this before.
‘There shouldn’t be this complicated criteria for children to have access to speak to somebody. We tried again and after another nine-month wait Kieran was rejected again. By this time he was in secondary school.’
Kristine’s main concern is that as Kieran gets older, his mood swings and aggressive episodes will become harder to manage.
‘If we get to 18, and he hasn’t got strategies to deal with his emotions, who’s going to help him? Is he going to be written off?’
‘We had an incident in May, at school, where he lashed out and ended up falling down the stairs, because he was trying to get away from the situation.
‘He’s getting bigger, he’s stronger. When he has these outbursts he’s going to do more damage.
‘If we get to 16, 17, 18, and he hasn’t got strategies to deal with his emotions, who’s going to help him? Is he going to be written off?
‘I don’t blame CAHMS. They have to prioritise kids with the funding and resources that they have. But there’s too much burden falling on families and schools.
‘I need for Kieran to be equipped with the tools to deal with these kinds of situations, and I just feel that there’s nobody helping him.’
Watching your child suffer during long referral waits can be incredibly difficult, and can leave parents feeling utterly helpless.
Child and adolescent psychiatrist from Big White Wall, Dr. Richard Graham, has this advice for parents: ‘As the most important person in your child’s life there is much you can do before even a first appointment.
‘Making time to listen to your child, and try to understand what is happening for them is the very stuff of Family Therapy.
‘Feeling valued and not judged goes a long way, and helping them feel they can play a part in deciding what to do about their problems can be healing.
‘Trust and honesty can also help you know how bad things get, and whether you need more urgent support; even in these stretched times, urgent support will always be available.’
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘We are transforming mental health services for children and young people with an additional £1.4bn and are on track to ensure that 70,000 more children a year have access to specialist mental healthcare by 2020/21.’