'I'm desperate - I just need help': Youngsters face up to four years wait for mental health help

  • Video report by ITV News reporter Rachel Younger

Like many 11-year-olds, Isla hates to be parted from her headphones. But she isn’t wearing them because she’s gaming or chatting to friends virtually.

Isla’s headphones are there to shut out the noise. Since developing anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder two years ago, Isla has become increasingly sensitive to sound.

Home schooling on Zoom during lockdown quickly proved unbearable.

Even the sound of her own dad’s voice is now too much to cope with.

Her mother Danielle explains that a condition called misophonia is responsible for her struggles.

Alongside her daughter's anxiety, it has left Isla battling with suicidal thoughts.

“She tells me she wishes she was deaf, that she wants to die” says Danielle, who doesn’t want us to use her full name in order to protect her daughter.

She wipes away tears as she speaks to us.

“I get up and check on her in the middle of the night to make sure she's okay” she continues.

“The other day, I woke up at four o'clock in the morning and I had to go to check on her because I wanted to make sure she was still breathing. It sounds stupid, but I don't know what to do.”

The family feel helpless because despite Isla’s school and GP writing to Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services - known as CAMHS - it has proved almost impossible to get help.

Earlier this month, Isla finally got an appointment but Danielle says they waited 18 months for it.

She says they’ve been told it could be anywhere between six months and a year-and-a-half for the next one.

  • Isla's mum, Danielle, tears up when describing the family's plight

ITV News asked all 62 mental health trusts with children's services in England and Wales about their waiting times.

Of the 32 that responded, 11 - that's over one-third - had children who had been waiting for more than a year for their first appointment .

In Rotherham, the longest wait is 872 days. In South London, it's 1,497.

The average waiting time is 58 days, which is far more reasonable.

However, there is a postcode lottery. In Sussex, it's three times the average at 180 days, while in Leicestershire, it's 226.

As a small child, Danielle herself was once the youngest ever patient in Britain to undergo open heart surgery.

After numerous operations since, she owes her life to the NHS but can’t understand why her child is being treated so differently.

Danielle and Isla play Scrabble.

“I don't want to undermine [the NHS] because they have been fantastic. But when it comes to children's mental health, they just don't get it. It's just not there. There's no funding. There's no help. There's no nothing," she says.

It's all very well saying we have a service set up for it... but when you come along and then you get told, well, actually, thanks for walking in the door. We'll catch up with you in two-and-a-half years. How is that helpful?”

At 11, Isla talks with the quiet resignation of someone much older. She describes feeling stuck and increasingly lonely.

When asked about her worst moments she says frankly: “Quite desperate. I just need help. I cant really wait any longer. It’s just going to get worse and worse”.

  • Isla feels that she "can't wait any longer" for help

Danielle and Isla's story is just one of many we have listened to over the past few weeks. Dozens of parents and carers have shared similar experiences with us as they wait for appointments.

Over the pandemic, children’s mental health services have remained open. But it's now been six years since the government promised to deliver a series of reforms to improve a service it accepted wasn’t on a par with NHS physical healthcare.

In a statement the mental health minister Nadine Dorries said: “Early intervention and treatment is vital, and we are providing an extra £2.3 billion to help an additional 345,000 children and young people access NHS-funded services or school and college-based support.”

Health minister Nadine Dorries (centre) has become the first MP to be diagnosed with coronavirus Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA

But Dr Lynne Green, a clinical psychologist who spent a decade-and-a-half at CAMHS and now works for Kooth, an organisation providing digital counselling for the NHS, describes a service struggling to cope.

She says: “There is a crisis in mental health provision for children - it was already there before the pandemic and its being exacerbated in the numbers we are seeing now.

"Sometimes you feel you are trying to help with your hands tied behind your back”

And as 11-year-old Isla finds herself feeling increasingly alone, what is clear from the figures ITV News has uncovered, is that her story is far from isolated.