Mental health time bomb warning as NHS turns one in five children away

More than a fifth of children with serious mental illnesses who are referred for specialist treatment get turned down, including youngsters who have been abused and neglected, a charity has found.

The most common reason given was that their condition was not serious enough to reach the threshold for treatment. Lack of investment in children’s mental health services, despite soaring demand, has forced many NHS services to raise their thresholds for care.

The NSPCC warned of a “time bomb” of serious mental health conditions after figures from 35 mental health trusts in England revealed that of 186,453 cases referred to them by family doctors and other professionals, 39,652 did not receive help.

In six trusts where children who had problems associated with abuse or neglect were referred to child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS), 305 of the 1,843 cases were rejected – one in six.

The NSPCC notes that not all children who have been abused will have a diagnosable mental health problem but many will still need therapeutic support to help them deal with their trauma.

Peter Wanless, Chief Executive, said: “There’s been a huge increase in awareness about all forms of abuse in recent years. If children don’t receive the right kind of help and support following a disclosure, the damage can last a lifetime and include post-traumatic stress disorder, depression or suicidal thoughts in adulthood.

“Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services are just one part of the jigsaw and it’s clear the current range of support available doesn’t meet the needs of many abused and neglected children.

“More and more victims of abuse are speaking out and we need to match their bravery with more specialist therapeutic support that is age-appropriate and there for children and young people, for as long as they need it.”

Nearly 100 calls were made every week last year to the charity’s ChildLine service from children who had suffered mentally because of abuse.

While there has been a rise in awareness of abuse in recent years, reports of abuse has also soared.

Sexual offences against children recorded by police in England and Wales increased by more than a third in 2013-14, the NSPCC said, while referrals to social services are also on the rise.

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