Mental health services for the young are a national scandal

Last month I visited my 16-year-old constituent Matthew Garnet in a psychiatric hospital in Northampton, many miles away from his home in south London. I have been working with Matthew’s family for nine months, battling alongside them for the support their son needs.

Matthew has autism and mental health needs. His parents have engaged with the system with dignity and determination, but it has been exceptionally difficult. They have had to fight at every turn and their experience illustrates powerfully the fundamental flaws of a mental health system which is failing our young people.

The crisis in mental health services for young people is evident, from the schools in my constituency who raise unprompted the impact of social media on mental health, to my local A&E where doctors describe increasing numbers of young people presenting with a mental health crisis and the long waits for inpatient beds; to the families struggling for early intervention support; and the very seriously unwell children who are routinely sent miles from home for in-patient care.

Young Minds states that one in in ten young people have a diagnosable mental health condition. Many more do not have a diagnosable condition but experience mental ill health or emotional distress in their childhood or adolescence. Fifty per cent of mental health problems are established by 14 and 75 per cent by 24. Suicide is the most common cause of death for boys aged between five and 19, and the second most common cause of death for girls of that age group.

In that context, the services and support available are woefully lacking. Some 75 per cent of young people with mental health problems may not get the treatment they need. Child and Adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) are, on average, turning away nearly a quarter of children referred to them by concerned parents, GPs, teachers and others. The number of young people ending up in A&E because of a psychiatric condition has more than doubled since 2010, and the thresholds for CAMHS continue to rise so more young people are forced to wait until they are in crisis before they can get help.


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