England is in the grip of a "mental health emergency", a charity declared, after figures showed that the number of children and young people referred to crisis teams had reached a record high.
An analysis of NHS data by YoungMinds found that referrals of children to emergency mental health services had tripled since 2019.
It urged the Government to "get a grip" on the scale of the problem.
The analysis of monthly NHS data showed that urgent referrals for people aged under 18 years stood at 3732 in May, which was more than three times the number recorded for the same month in 2019 prior to the pandemic.
Statistics Should "Sound the Alarm"
Laura Bunt, chief executive of YoungMinds, said the figures should "sound the alarm". "They are indicative of a system that is broken and a Government that has refused to listen to young people demanding change," she added. "We are now in a mental health emergency and the Government must get a grip on the scale of this crisis."
The analysis came as the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) published an interim report on its Major Conditions Strategy which aims to outline ways to improve management of six disease groups. The strategy includes mental health conditions as one of the six, but Young Minds said an earlier decision to scrap a long-term mental health plan had delayed action on addressing young people's mental health.
"Given the scale of need, the new interim Major Conditions Strategy report looks set to fall well short of what’s needed," Ms Bunt warned. "Young people and families need decisive action – not sticking-plaster solutions and further delays."
She called for steps to prioritise the mental health of children and young people, such as "providing early support in communities, increasing help in schools, and reducing waiting times".
"Record Sums" Invested in Children's Mental Health
In a statement emailed to Medscape News UK, a DHSC spokesperson said: "We’re investing record sums of funding to boost children’s mental health support, and we’re extending coverage of mental health support teams to at least 50% of pupils in England by the end of March 2025.
“We’re also investing an additional £2.3 billion a year in NHS mental health services by March 2024, so an additional 345,000 children and young people will be able to access NHS-funded mental health support quicker.
"Our landmark Major Conditions Strategy will focus on six major groups of conditions – cancers, mental health, cardiovascular disease (including stroke and diabetes), dementia, chronic respiratory diseases, and musculoskeletal disorders – that account for around 60% of ill-health and early death in England."
A report published in November last year estimated that 18% of children in England aged between 7 and 16 years had a probable mental health disorder in 2022 – up from 16.7% in 2020. The investigation by NHS Digital also found that 22% of young people aged 17 to 24 years were likely to have experienced a mental health disorder in 2022.