Children and young people are “bearing the brunt” of a mental health crisis brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, a royal college has warned.
New data shows the number of children and young people referred for mental health help rose by more than a quarter during the pandemic.
Royal College of Psychiatrists found that almost 400,000 children and 2.2 million adults sought help for mental health problems during the pandemic, with 1.68 million more mental health sessions delivered over the past year compared with the year before.
Analysis of NHS Digital data suggests that while the crisis was affecting people of all ages, the under-18s were suffering most, the college said.
Some 80,226 more children and young people were referred to specialist mental health services between April and December last year, up by 28% on the same months in 2019, to 372,438.
Meanwhile, 600,628 more treatment sessions were given to children and young people, up by a fifth on 2019 to 3.58 million.
Overall, 18,269 children and young people needed urgent or emergency crisis care, including assessments to see if they needed to be sectioned under mental health laws.
This is an increase of 18% on the figures for 2019 and includes assessment for illnesses such as anorexia and other eating disorders.
The head of the college has warned the demand for mental health services are fast-approaching breaking point, with a “very real risk” they will be “overrun by the sheer volume of people needing help”.
Dr Bernadka Dubicka, chairwoman of the child and adolescent faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “Our children and young people are bearing the brunt of the mental health crisis caused by the pandemic and are at risk of lifelong mental illness.
“As a frontline psychiatrist I’ve seen the devastating effect that school closures, disrupted friendships and the uncertainty caused by the pandemic have had on the mental health of our children and young people.
“Services were already struggling to cope with the number of children needing help before the pandemic hit, and they risk being overrun unless the Government ensures the promised money reaches the front line quickly.”
Adults are also suffering as a result of the pandemic. Some 159,347 urgent or emergency crisis referrals were made for adults – an all-time high – and an increase of 2% on 2019.
Dr Adrian James, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “The extent of the mental health crisis is terrifying, but it will likely get a lot worse before it gets better.
“Services are at a very real risk of being overrun by the sheer volume of people needing help with their mental illness.
“While the recent funding announcement is welcome, we need this money to reach mental health services as soon as possible to tackle this crisis.”