'There's no one to call me mum anymore': The scale of the child mental health crisis revealed

Children's Commissioner Dame Rachel de Souza compared the figures to a tsunami and accused the NHS of treating children as second class citizens. ITV News Health Correspondent Rebecca Barry and Health Producer Philip Sime report

Almost one million children and young people in England were referred to mental health services last year, ITV News can reveal.

The figures obtained by the Children’s Commissioner for England have been shared exclusively with ITV News.

A total of 949,200 young people were referred to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) in England in 2022-23 – that’s 8% of children in England.

Speaking to ITV News today, Children’s Commissioner Dame Rachel de Souza said children are being treated like 'second-class citizens' when it comes to mental health care.

Mason's story

Mason Clark was just 14 years old when he died by suicide in September 2021.

His mental health suffered following the breakdown of his parents’ marriage and a bereavement.

His mother, Jess, told us it was "absolutely terrifying".

“I’d look at websites, contact charities, phone counsellors, trying to access different services but often being told it wasn’t the right criteria or the right threshold,” Jess said.

"It's incredibly painful every single day. I find myself waking up in the morning just in a state of panic, so you start your day with a panic attack and then that reality that you don’t have a school-run to do any more - and no one to call me mum anymore."

An inquest into Mason’s death identified "missed opportunities" to help Mason as his mental health deteriorated.

Raising concerns about funding, the coroner who investigated his death said children’s mental health services were "overwhelmed".

'It's incredibly painful, every single day': Mason Clark's mother shares the devastating impact of losing her son

Jess now spends her time working with charities, campaigning for improved training for teachers so that they can spot signs of a child’s deteriorating mental health.

West Sussex County Council told us they’ve since made "significant progress".

Mason's mental health deteriorated after the breakdown of his parents’ marriage and a bereavement. Credit: Family handout

Children treated like ‘second-class citizens’

“I’m shocked by just the absolute tsunami of need,” Children’s Commissioner Dame Rachel de Souza told ITV News.

"Children have been treated as second-class citizens in society and second-class citizens by the NHS,” she said.

The commissioner's report also finds:

  • 270,300 children and young people are still waiting for mental health support after being referred in 2022-23.

  • 372,800 had their referral closed before accessing support.

  • Almost 40,000 children waited more than two years for mental health treatment.

  • 31,000 children reached a point of mental health crisis last year.

Children’s Commissioner Dame Rachel de Souza warns of a 'tsunami of need' within the child mental health system

Demand 'increased nearly 100%'

In Stockport, a purpose-built centre for child and adolescent mental health provides therapy for children with anxiety and depression.

They also send mental health staff into schools across Greater Manchester. But referrals to their service have almost doubled in four years from 14,000 a year to 26,000.

"Demand has increased nearly 100% in four years and yet staffing hasn’t increased by 100%." Service Lead, Lisa Slater, told ITV News.

In response to the Children’s Commissioner's findings, a spokesperson for NHS England told ITV News: “Latest figures show the NHS is treating more young people than ever before with 48% more children and young people accessing support since 2019/20, and the health service is expanding this provision as quickly as possible within the current five-year funding arrangements to meet this rising demand.

“But we know there is more to do which is why plans are also in place to ensure more than one in two pupils in schools and colleges have access to an NHS mental health support team by Spring 2025 – significantly ahead of the original target.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We want to ensure that every young person gets the mental health support they need. Spending on mental health has increased by more than £4.5 billion since 2018/19 and we are increasing the coverage of mental health support teams in schools to reach at least 50% of pupils in England by March 2025.

“In February, we announced 24 existing early support hubs across the country will receive additional funding, and the number of children and young people under 18 supported through NHS-funded mental health services has gone up by 31% since March 2021."

If you would like to share your experience of mental health care, please email the ITV News Health team at itvnewshealth@itn.co.uk

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