Children's mental health crisis 'worsens' as young people travel 'hundreds of miles' for care

If your child is struggling with their mental health you'll know how tough it can be to find the right care close to home.

But the Covid pandemic has been particularly painful for young people with existing mental health needs.

A survey carried out by Young Minds and shared with ITV News has shown that going back to school isn't helping as much as the government hoped.

Instead 61% of 11 to 18-year-olds are reporting their mental health has got worse since schools reopened.

While 22% say there is less support in schools now than before the coronavirus pandemic, with only 9% finding there is more.

Before the virus struck, the government promised to help an extra 345,000 young people every year, by investing in earlier support in schools and colleges.

But Covid has piled on the pressure, with the Centre for Mental Health estimating 1.5 million under-18s will need help with their mental health as a result of the crisis.

Charities like Young Minds believe a failure to act now will store up huge problems for an already over-stretched system.

"We're playing catch up in terms of young peoples' mental health so currently that means young people will only get support when they are ill enough," says Emma Thomas, the Chief Executive of Young Minds.

"That's putting pressure on the NHS, which already can't cope with the numbers."

But with demand spiralling and early preventative care struggling to cope, ITV News has found evidence that children in some parts of the country are having to travel hundreds of miles for care.

Over a 24-hour period two weeks ago, ITV News contacted 35 Mental Health Trusts in England with inpatient units for children.

Of the 20 that replied, eight, almost all of them in the South East, had no beds available.

Another three Trusts had just one.

A spokesperson for NHS England told ITV News "there were around 90 available beds" that week in regions across the country.

But remarkably they can't say how many children are being treated away from the area they live in.

That's despite providing the figure for adults and promising to eliminate out of area care by the end of next year.

A spokespeson continued: "The NHS is treating record numbers of children and young people for mental health conditions and the vast majority of them receiving care locally. 

"The NHS remains committed to eliminating out of area treatments for children and young people by the end of 2021 and alongside a boost in mental health funding, the Long Term Plan is continuing to improve crisis and community based care, so that an extra 345,000 young people will get the help they need each year."

Kirsten Collin's daughter Freya is being treated for an eating disorder 90-miles from home. Credit: ITV News

In Kent, Kirsten Collin's daughter Freya is being treated for an eating disorder 90-miles from home.

It means every visit involves a three hour round trip but Kirsten thinks it could be worse.

"I know people that are up to 400 miles away or have a four hour journey so I actually consider myself fortunate," she says.

"When they were looking for beds for her on three separate occasions, I was very aware they could be anywhere in the country.

"There's such a shortage of beds, you have to go where there's a bed".

But that doesn't make it any easier.

After years of self-harming, Juliet Steggar's daughter Liv had to be sectioned for her own safety. The only suitable bed was in Maidenhead, 150-miles from her Lincolnshire home.

"You already feel like there is a piece of you missing when your child goes into a mental health unit and you don't get that piece back until they're discharged," says Juliet.

Liv with mum Juliet. Credit: ITV News

"So you've already got that empty feeling and that constant worrying about them and then on top of that you know they are miles away."

Liv, 17, was finally discharged this spring but believes constant homesickness delayed her recovery.

"Its really difficult as it is, but I was hours away from my parents.

"If I wanted a hug, if I needed them there they couldn't be there if I needed them," she remembers.

She's now on the road to recovery and studying to become a mental health nurse herself.

Her biggest hope is that by the time she qualifies, there will be enough care on offer to meet the demand from children in need of help.

If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health. Here are some resources and contacts that can offer help and advice:

Young Minds - Young Minds' Parents' Information Service gives advice to parents or carers who may be concerned about the mental health or emotional wellbeing of a child or young person. You can get in touch on 0808 802 5544.

ChildLine - ChildLine is a counselling service for children and young people. You can get in touch by phone on 0800 1111, via email, have a 1-2-1 chatsend a message to Ask Sam and you can also post messages to the ChildLine message boards.