Analysis of NHS Digital data has found that nearly 200,000 children and young people were referred to mental health services from April to June this year, nearly double pre-pandemic levels. Referrals for crisis care have also increased substantially; 8,522 children and young people have needed crisis care, two-thirds higher than pre-pandemic levels.

School intervention and investment is necessary to prevent a further rise in crisis care

The Royal College is calling on the new education secretary, Nadhim Zahawi MP, to make children and young people’s mental health needs a top priority.

Dr Elaine Lockhart, chair of the child and adolescent faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said of the findings: “These alarming figures reflect what I and many other frontline psychiatrists are seeing in our clinics on a daily basis.”

"Early intervention is key to recovery. Schools have a critical role to play in this, and the education secretary must do all that he can to prioritise pupils' mental health.”

To respond to the increase in demand, Dr Lockhart commented, “Children’s mental health services must also be properly funded and properly staffed if we are to treat the ever-growing number needing mental health care. Without investment, we run the risk of many more needing crisis help."

As well as extra funding for schools, the Royal College is also asking for government investment in a national network to early support hubs to provide easy-to-access, drop-in mental health support for young people on a self-referral basis.

An unprecedented number of children with eating disorders are waiting for treatment

Young people with eating disorders have been particularly affected by the mental health knock-on of lockdowns, and the move to remote access to therapy and services.

In August, the Royal College of Psychiatrists discovered that the number of people accessing services had more than tripled over the last year and a half. Consequentially, many services were struggling to meet the rocketing demand.

Sarah’s (not her real name) daughter relapsed into anorexia during the pandemic. She said: “The pandemic has been devastating for my daughter and for our family. She has anorexia and was discharged from an inpatient unit last year, but the disruption to her normal routines and socialising really affected her recovery. She was spending a lot less time doing the things she enjoys and a lot more time alone with her thoughts.”

“Unfortunately, she relapsed, becoming so unwell she was admitted to hospital and sectioned. After 72 days in hospital with no specialist eating disorder bed becoming available, we brought her home where I had to tube feed her for ten weeks.”

“My daughter urgently needed specialist help for this life-threatening illness, but services are completely overwhelmed because so many young people need help. It's a terrifying situation for patients and families to be in.”

While more children than ever are being treated for an eating disorder, an unprecedented number are also waiting for treatment. Mental health professionals also suspect that there has also been a significant increase in the rate of other mental disorders in children and young people. In 2017, one in ten 5- to 16-year-olds were identified by the NHS as having a ‘probably mental disorder’, compared to over 1.5 in ten in 2020.