'We are fighting a losing battle for our children's mental health': Desperate parents plead for help

Jamie Roberton

Former Health and Science Producer

The new figures are worrying.

But what is even more concerning is the volume of messages that I have received from parents over the past 24 hours - many of whom are at crisis point as they struggle to access mental health treatment for their desperately ill children.

The harrowing tales include:

  • a teenage girl who ended up in A&E more than 20 times before she received appropriate help

  • an ambulance worker who says her 17-year-old daughter has been left suicidal as she waits for counselling

  • a father whose 10-year-old son waited three months for an appointment before being told his case was not severe enough to warrant further treatment

  • a mother forced to give up her job to care for her 12-year-old son who has been waiting more than a year to see a specialist

  • a couple from southern England who have seen their young daughter sent to Scotland to be treated

  • an 11-year-old child who was prescribed anti-depressants and no offer of a follow-up appointment after months on the waiting list

In one particularly emotional conversation, one mother said: "You will be hearing from many frustrated parents like me, fighting a losing battle for our children’s mental health."

Their message is simple: we’re tired of endless inquiries, newspaper headlines and empty pledges from politicians - we need help and we need it now.

This view is echoed by Children's Commissioner Anne Longfield. She told ITV News that while progress had been made, still only a "small fraction" of those who need help were getting it from the NHS and there remained a "vast gap" between demand and provision.

Jasmine Flanagan was 14 - with severe anorexia and depression - when she was told that she was not ill enough to guarantee treatment.

"Why do I have to be at crisis point to get the help? Do I have to be six foot under to get the help or for people to realise that I'm ill?" she told ITV News.

Her mother Liz, who is now battling to ensure her younger daughter Holly receives mental health care, offered a searing insight into her family's ordeal.

"We were desperate...when she was at her lowest weight, I had to sleep in with her because her heart rate could drop to such a low that she could have a heart attack and die."

Steve Mallen, who tragically lost his son Edward to suicide, said: "The NHS is completely overwhelmed; if we focused more on intervention, prevention and mental health literacy, we could ultimately leave the NHS to deal with those in most serious crisis."

Longfield, Mallen, the Flanagan family - and the dozens of other parents that I've spoken - to are demanding the government, schools and health service show greater ambition and urgency in ensuring no child is left behind.

The true scale of the mental health crisis engulfing the country's children was exposed today; for desperate parents it is time for action to stop their son's and daughter's lives being permanently blighted.

  • Do you want to share your experience of mental health treatment? Email: jamie.roberton@itn.co.uk

  • If you are in distress or need some support, the Samaritans are available 24 hours a day on 116 123 or through their website