Rise in mental health referrals for children and young people across NI

There were almost 2000 more referrals to child and adolescent mental health services in Northern Ireland in the last financial year than the year before.

Exclusive figures obtained by UTV show that there were 10,675 referrals in 2021/2022, compared to 8719 in 2020/2021.

It comes as mental health service providers for children and young people say children as young as four are being referred.

CAMHS also said they have seen an 83% rise in referrals for eating disorders.

Maria Sharvin is the service manager for CAMHS in Belfast.

She told UTV demand is high:

"We have seen referrals to CAMHS have really been increasing over the last ten years and I suppose they have been fairly steady for the last four or five years so we're always concerned about the level of referrals and how quickly we can respond.

"What we are seeing is young people who are more unwell when they come to us and I suppose that's been a big topic of conversation for us in CAMHS thinking about how we manage that because those young people will need increased time in services."

24-year-old Erin Quinn has struggled with mental illness since she was 12.

She suffered multiple suicide attempts and symptoms of psychosis before she was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia aged 18.

Erin is now a mother of six-year-old River and manages her condition with support and love from her friends and family.

Erin and her son River Credit: Family photograph

She told UTV about her experience with mental ill health:

"I had been struggling with hearing voices, cameras that would follow me everywhere I went, believing things that weren't true.

"I also see a woman, my family call her the woman in black and she goes for a while and then she comes back but when she comes back that's when we know it's really not good.

"The support when I was a child was amazing, I was quite close to my teachers in school and they were allowed to come down to CAMHS and be in the room with the psychiatrist and they would go back and forth...so it was really a joint effort to try and give me as much support as I needed at that time.

"But then coming into the adult mental health service it was just really a case of asking me the questions: Do you hear voices, do you see anything? Yes, yes, yes ok I'll give you these tablets bye bye."

There is a new mental health strategy in place in Northern Ireland.

The Mental Health Champion Professor Siobhan O'Neill says children are being failed by the current provision:

"Current services aren't able to meet the demand presently we don't have enough staff, we don't have enough funding for mental health services and young people are finding that when they ask for help that they're put on waiting lists and that's not acceptable.

UTV asked Prof O'Neill about the rise in referrals and the transition into adult mental health services.

She said the mental health strategy addresses that but it is a ten year plan:

"Well that is a significant difficulty and it was highlighted in the consultations and there's an action within the mental health strategy to change the age of that transition from 18 to the mid 20s which is a much more appropriate stage we know developmentally that that's when maturity is achieved so that again is an action that was in the strategy to change that but that requires a lot of investment to meet that increased need so you can see why this is going to take ten years for all the packages of change that we need.

"It could be that we're becoming more aware of our mental health and more and more people are asking for help at an earlier stage, it also could be that there's pressure on primary care and those referrals are simply being made on the basis of phone calls without the triage without that analysis of what exactly it is so there's a number of reasons for it and of course young people are under significant pressure now, they've suffered as a result of the pandemic, there's an increased need there as well."

If you are in distress or despair you can call Lifeline on 0808 800 8000

You can also seek help via the NI Direct website

Below is also a list of charities which also provide help and support across Northern Ireland:



Action mental health


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