Children wait years for mental health support

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Children and young people with mental health difficulties are forced to wait an average of 10 years between first becoming unwell and getting help, a report has found.1

An evidence review by the Centre for Mental Health charity found that only a quarter of school age children with a diagnosable problem received any intervention at all despite most parents of these children seeking professional advice. And it warned that, when children and families do seek help, they are “frequently confused by a maze of largely fragmented services and often face lengthy delays to get the help they need.”

The review found a “very mixed and confusing picture” of the current state of children and of young people’s mental health over time. “Increases in distress and demand for help have been noted by some specialist child and adolescent mental health services, schools, youth helplines and voluntary sector providers,” it said.

The report said that the most common mental health problems among children were behavioural problems, which severely affected one child in 20, and that, while boys were more likely to have mental health problems during their early years, girls were more likely to have emotional problems in teenage years.

It also highlighted an increased risk of poor mental health in children who are subjected to neglect and abuse, children who are bullied or who bully, and children whose parents have mental health problems. Groups with higher rates of poor mental health also include young lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, those in the youth justice system, and those who have been looked after by local authorities.

Lorraine Khan, associate director for children and young people at the Centre for Mental Health and the report’s author, said, “Childhood mental health problems are extremely common and can be very serious. They affect 10% of children each year and can cast a long shadow well into adult life.

“Good mental health is shaped very early on at the first ...