Children and young people’s mental health services have seen a 45% rise in open referrals over the last two years. A new analysis from the British Psychological Society (BPS) has found that it urges action on mental health funding and workforce planning.
As the UK marks the second anniversary of the first lockdown, analysis of NHS Digital data by the BPS has found there were 397,147 open referrals to children and young people’s mental health services at the end of December 2021, compared to 261 939 at the end of December 2019.
The figures are further evidence of the damaging effects of the pandemic on children and young people – highlighting the urgent need for the government to invest in mental health services and the psychological workforce, with a particular focus on early intervention.
Staff shortages and years of funding cuts mean that children’s mental health services can often only take the most severe cases, leaving many waiting months for support. Investment in early intervention services and the psychological workforce could dramatically improve outcomes for these children, young people and their families.
Dr Helen Griffiths, chair of the BPS Division of Clinical Psychology’s Faculty for Children, Young People, and Their Families, said: ‘We know that early intervention is critical to improving outcomes for children, young people, and families. These figures lay bare the toll the pandemic has taken on our children and young people’s mental health, with the pressures of missed education and reduced opportunities to socialise with friends and others, which play a significant part in development and well-being.’
‘Given that near three-quarters of mental health problems begin to emerge before the age of 25, the focus now must be to build on initiatives such as early intervention hubs and mental health support teams and invest in specialist services.’
‘Additional funding for children’s and young people’s services announced earlier this year by NHS England is welcome, but services cannot be delivered without the workforce in place. The government must commit to expanding the psychological workforce as a matter of urgency.’
In addition to the focus on prevention and early intervention, the BPS has renewed calls to put more play into the school day due to the benefits of the game for mental health. It wants to see an additional 10 minutes of the game added to the school day, with play being integral to children’s social development, problem-solving and physical development.
Dr Olympia Palikara and Dr Victoria Lewis, co-chairs of the BPS Division of Education and Child Psychology, added: ‘It is clear that action needs to be taken to support children’s mental health and well-being and increase access to vital services and support.’
‘One small change that can be made in ensuring children across all ages and stages have frequent opportunities to play throughout the school day. As we emerge from the pandemic and children are faced with yet further uncertainty over the conflict in Ukraine and what it could mean for them, there is a vital need to recognise the intrinsic value of play and make it a priority.’