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A youth mental health charity has called on the government to act as more children and young people than ever turn to mental health services.
New analysis has shown that the number of under-18s referred to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) has risen by 76 percent since 2019.
Youth charity YoungMinds said in a report on Tuesday that over 1.4 million young people turned to CAMHS in 2022, according to figures from NHS Digital. That compared to 812,070 in 2019.
YoungMinds added that many cases are still on the waiting list and yet to be reviewed.
According to the charity, 2023 marked the second year in a row when the number of children and young people referred to mental health services crossed the 1 million threshold.
More than 50 percent of surveyed young people said worrying about financial stability has affected their mental well-being, while 28 percent said they were still feeling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report came on the same day the government ended its call for evidence on prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of six illnesses that most affect the population in England.
The government’s Major Conditions Strategy combines the national mental health plan with plans for chronic health conditions, such as cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
The strategy has replaced Whitehall’s 10-year mental health plan that aimed to improve mental health services across the country and put mental and physical health on an equal footing.
Health Department minister Helen Whately said that the government will use the evidence gathered on mental health last year to inform the new strategy.
“The shelved long-term plan could have paved the way for reforms that support young people and reduce the prevalence of poor mental health,” YoungMinds said.
The charity argued that at a time when young people face the impact of the pandemic, the cost-of-living crisis, and academic catch-up, the government has to step up with a long-term, functional mental health plan.
“Every day without action is another day thousands of young people are without the mental health support they need. Behind every number is a young person facing impossible challenges. We cannot allow this to be accepted as the new normal, with 1.4 million young people referred to mental health services, and so many going without support,” said YoungMinds Chief Executive Laura Bunt.
She urged the government to “listen to young people” and act to decrease the numbers of young people needing support, prioritise early intervention, and properly fund mental health services.
As part of the Major Conditions Strategy, the government announced an investment of over £113 million to fund research, which will be divided among projects focusing on cancer, obesity, mental health, and addiction.
However, the Mental Health Foundation has argued that in the post-pandemic setting and in the middle of the cost-living crisis, this is “not the time for the government to be diluting its focus on mental health.”
National charity Rethink Mental Illness has criticised the decision to abandon the 10-year cross-government Mental Health and Wellbeing Plan.
“This decision signifies a failure to prioritise the nation’s mental health and challenge the causes of mental illness at the very moment that demand for support is soaring,” said the charity’s Chief Executive Mark Winstanley.
Head of the Mental Health Foundation, Mark Rowland, argued that the government strategy should not take away attention from young people’s mental health needs.
“Its focus on chronic conditions must not mean that it excludes children and young people, who are less likely to experience chronic ill-health but who are a prime target for preventative mental health interventions,” Rowland said.
The government is expected to publish an interim report on its Major Conditions Strategy this summer.