Children at risk of suicide denied a place on NHS England waiting lists because services were overwhelmed | Mental health

Children at risk of suicide are being denied places on waiting lists for mental health services because they are chronically oversubscribed, according to senior education figures.

A report last month by the multi-university research program Center for Young Lives and Child of the North warned that NHS Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (Camhs) are buckling under the pressure of a “national epidemic” of health problems. mental child. .

He revealed that, at the end of last year, 32,000 children had been waiting for more than two years to be cared for. Two-thirds of the children did not receive any interim support, she said, and self-harmed and committed suicide while waiting for “too much family.”

Anne Longfield, founder of the Center for Young Living, told the Observer that when she took over as the government’s children’s commissioner in 2015, she was “shocked” to discover that a young man had to be suicidal to be guaranteed an appointment at Camhs. Now, she said, after years of further funding cuts, the thresholds for intervention are so high that even suicidal children are frequently turned away in many areas.

Longfield said: “Attempting suicide is now not enough to get mental health support. They ask: ‘Did the boy really intend to end his life or not?’ It’s such a scary state. For any family, having a suicidal child is the most terrifying crisis. “They often run into this terrible brick wall where they can’t get professional help.”

Referrals to mental health services for children and young people in England have increased since before the pandemic, rising from 340,000 in 2017-18 to 540,000 in 2019-20. However, last year the number of children and young people with active referrals soared to 949,000, with experts and schools blaming the combined impact of the pandemic, growing poverty and a lack of support for families after more than one decade of government cuts to public services. There is now a postcode lottery for treatment, with waiting lists stretching for years in many areas.

The safeguarding officer at a primary school in a deprived north-west town, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “A child can say they want to end their life, but if they don’t have a clear plan, they won’t be able to do it.” referred. His parents are told to put away all sharp objects.”

He added: “We also have children who seriously self-harm, but that is no longer considered an emergency.”

The school’s principal said they were paying outside counselors to help their protection team provide therapy to 60 children whose parents often faced drug or alcohol addiction or domestic abuse and often their own health problems. mental. He said: “We are asked to work far beyond our experience in very traumatic cases.”

Susie Beresford-Wylie, director of special educational needs and disabilities (Send), inclusion and vulnerable groups at Olympus Academy Trust, which runs nine schools in Bristol and Gloucestershire, said schools are now telling parents of children with a suicide to go straight to A&E. . But she added: “When they are deemed to need Camhs there and are on a waiting list, that same child, with the same needs, is sent back to school with no interim support.”

He said Camhs had told parents that school was the best place for children with serious mental health problems as it gives them a routine, but many cannot cope when they arrive. “They’re acting out because they can’t cope, they’re truancy, or we have kids in the bathrooms cutting themselves,” she said.

Beresford-Wylie said this was putting staff under intense emotional strain. “We are not a frontline mental health service. “We cannot manage having a volume of children who are obviously in crisis without adequate resources and support.”

One North West GP, who asked to remain anonymous, said he was now accepting just “one Camhs referral a year” for his patients. “I’ve started telling parents that there’s no point in trying because your child will be rejected,” he said, adding that a child feeling suicidal was “no longer enough” to get a referral accepted.

The GP said she understands how distressed parents feel because her own teenage daughter waited almost four years for face-to-face counselling, despite suffering two overdoses in that time. “After her second overdose, I called a 24-hour emergency crisis team. They told me that she is 17 years old; When she is 18 she will be an adult and accessing support will be much easier. It’s just a joke. It’s very scary when her son is on the edge and doesn’t get any help.

“I see really distraught parents and children all the time who are going through what we have gone through. “I know they need help, but they won’t get it through Camhs.”

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The chief executive of an academy in the north-east said they were seeing a huge rise in mental health problems “driven by the impact of homelessness” and the lack of support for families from public services.

“It is impossible for us to address this level of need without clinical training,” he said.

He said some children at the trust’s schools had waited between 18 months and four years to receive treatment with Camhs. “It’s heartbreaking.”

The trust was buying all the advice it could afford and getting support from charities, he said. But he added: “These children need more support and they need it now.

“How can we claim to be a civilized country and let children down so badly?”

A spokesperson for NHS England said: “The NHS is providing mental health support to more children than ever, with an increase of more than 50% since 2019, while expanding provision as quickly as possible within current support arrangements. five-year financing.

“We know there is more to do and that is why there are plans to ensure that more than half of pupils can access an NHS mental health support team, offering early support in schools, by next spring, significantly ahead of the original target.”

In the United Kingdom and Ireland, Samaritans You can contact them by calling freephone 116 123 or emailing or In the US, you can call or text the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988, chat on or text HOME to 741741 to connect with a crisis counselor.Other international helplines can be found at

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