Rise in the number of children as young as 11 needing NHS mental health help

There has been a dramatic rise in the number of children as young as 11 needing help from NHS mental health services, according to new figures.

NHS Digital data for England shows an increase in young people needing help and accessing treatment, with almost one in four 16-year-old girls needing help.

Across all age groups, the number of people in contact with NHS mental health services has increased, with almost a fifth more people needing help than three years ago.

A breakdown of the data shows a 29% increase in 2021/22 in the number of under-18s in contact with mental health, learning disabilities and autism services compared to 2020/21, the first year of the Covid pandemic, and the previous one (non-pandemic year).

Some 992,647 people needed help in 2021/22, compared to 768,083 in 2020/21 and 763,888 in 2019/20.

Overall, 18% of 16-year-olds nationwide (114,203) and 17% of 17-year-olds (101,694) were in contact with these NHS services in 2021/22.

Of these, 16-year-old girls were most likely to be in contact with NHS mental health, autism and disability services – 23% (69,580) needing help in 2021/22 .

The number of young people aged 11 to 15 in contact with services has also increased, from 359,681 in 2020/21 to 498,558 in 2021/22, an increase of 39%.

Olly Parker, External Affairs Manager at YoungMinds, said: “These figures demonstrate the unprecedented crisis taking place in young people’s mental health, with nearly one in five 16-year-olds across the country coming into contact with mental health services. The situation is untenable.

“Thousands of young people are seeking mental health support, but too many are being told to wait, struggle to cope and reach crisis point before getting help.

“We know that young women in particular face a wide range of pressures that can affect their mental health – from stress at school to difficult relationships with family or friends and issues and concerns about body image often exacerbated by social media.

“For years, politicians have been promising to end the crisis in youth mental health. But the reality is that with every month of inaction, things get worse.

“The government must keep its promise of a 10-year mental health plan. It should include the changes that tens of thousands of young people have already called for – an early support center in every community, better support in schools, NHS services that respond to demand.

NHS digital data shows 3,256,695 people of all ages came into contact with mental health, learning disabilities and autism services at some point in the year – 992,647 of them had under 18 years old.

The overall total has risen by nearly a fifth in three years, from 2,803,244 in 2020/21, 2,878,636 in 2019/20 and 2,726,721 in 2018/19.

In other words, some 5.8% of people in England in 2021/22 came into contact with services during the year, compared to 5% in the previous pandemic year and 5.1% of people in 2019/20.

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