Children’s mental health referrals rise 41% in Cumbria since pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic appears to have had a damaging impact on the wellbeing of young people in Cumbria, with mental health referrals to the NHS Children and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) rising by 41%.

The figures from Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust compare the last twelve months with the year before the pandemic.

Waiting times to access treatment through CAMHS in Cumbria have also more than doubled since early last year.

"Living in fear"

Emma Gooch, who lives near Whitehaven, understands the difficulties many young people and their parents face when trying to access mental health support.

She shared a video online after waiting eleven hours in hospital last year trying to get help for her suicidal daughter, before being sent home.

Emma says she has gone five days without sleeping at times, out of fear of what might happen.

She said: "It is just the most horrific feeling in the world. You feel too scared to walk out of your bedroom in the morning in case you find your child dead.

Emma Gooch Credit: ITV Border

Emma says her daughter is now receiving excellent treatment through CAMHS, but has started a small group with the aim of helping others get support for their children.

The group, called Children in Crisis Cumbria Support (CHICCS), also hopes to remove stigma for parents.

In one message anonymously shared with the group, a young person in Cumbria says they were told by NHS staff 'to go home and bake a cake to take their mind off wanting to die.'

1 in 6 children are now thought to have a probable mental health condition Credit: PA

Early intervention in schools

The latest report from the Children's Commissioner in England, Rachel de Souza, shows that 1 in 6 children now have a probable mental health condition. The same figure was 1 in 9 as recently as 2017.

Many experts say that one way to improve the situation could be to increase mental health support available in educational institutions.

There are more than 400 schools in Cumbria, according to the Cumbria County Council website. However, figures exclusively obtained by ITV Border show that less than 100 schools in the county have access to NHS mental health support teams that go into schools.

Austin Friars, Carlisle Credit: ITV Border

One school in Carlisle has taken the unusual step of appointing a dedicated, full-time mental health nurse.

Rosie Bulman previously worked in CAMHS and has been based at Austin Friars, an independent school in Carlisle, for 18 months.

All students at the school, aged 3-18, can access mental health support through Rosie. Her work involves a range of techniques, including private individual and group sessions, away from the teachers.

She said: "The students see me as very separate to the teaching staff. They talk to me differently. It means their barriers are down.

Rosie Bulman is the mental health nurse at Austin Friars, Carlisle Credit: ITV Border

"They're more likely to share things with me than they are with the teaching staff. There isn't that sort of authoritative aura about me that the teachers have."

Like other experts, Rosie says early intervention mental health support is crucial.

She said: "I've worked with children for a long time now and you can see that the quicker you intervene with any sort of emotional difficulty, the less likely it is to develop.

Should suicide prevention be on the national curriculum?

Andy Airey, from the Three Dads Walking group, believes early intervention in schools should go further.

Andy lives near Penrith. His daughter Sophie took her own life three years ago, aged 29.

Sophie, Andy Airey's daughter Credit: Family photo

Andy walked 300 miles across the country last year with two other bereaved fathers, raising more than £800,000 for the suicide prevention charity Papyrus.

The three dads recently met the Mental Health minister, Gillian Keegan, to campaign for suicide prevention to be put on the national curriculum.

Andy said: "Schools are starting to address some mental health issues which is great. But we do need to get them to talk about the real sharp end of mental health which is self harm and suicide prevention."

Back in Whitehaven, Emma Gooch agrees that action needs to be taken sooner rather than later.

She said: "It shouldn't get to crisis. As soon as the child is displaying mental health issues, as soon as the child is self harming, you shouldn't have to wait until they've tried to kill themselves before they get any help.

Since sharing her story, Emma says her daughter is now receiving excellent support through CAMHS. However she knows many others are struggling to access treatment.

Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust says it has been working to improve every aspect of the service since taking it on in 2019, with significant investments.


Vicki Boggon from the Cumbrian suicide prevention charity Every Life Matters. She works in schools across the county and has the following advice:

If you've been affected by this story, there is also support available at the following links: