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Children as young as 3 referred for mental health help

mental health

Between 2014-2015 and 2017-2018 schools in England have made 123,713 referrals for specialist mental help according to statistics obtained by children’s charity the NSPCC.

Worryingly, more than fifty percent of referrals came from primary schools and alarmingly the youngest child being referred for help was just 3 years old.

Over this period referrals to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) has steadily risen with an average of 200 referrals being made every day over the past year.

The information was released under Freedom of Information laws to the NSPCC. The charity discovered that of the 53 trusts which provided information there were 25,140 referrals in 2014-15 rising to 34,757 in 2017-18 – the equivalent of 183 every school day.

The number of children aged under 11 referred for specialist support rose by 5,183 from 2014-2015 to 18,870 in 2017-2018.


Esther Rantzen founder and president of NSPCC’s Childline said the issues children were referred for included depression and anxiety, sometimes these were so severe that it can lead them to the brink of suicide.

“Our research shows schools are increasingly referring children for specialist mental health treatment, often when the child is at crisis point,” Peter Wanless, chief executive of the NSPCC, said.

The charity also revealed that thirty one percent of referrals from schools to CAMHS were declined treatment as they did not meet the criteria for support.


Sarah Hannafin, senior policy adviser at the National Association of Head Teachers, said “More pupils are suffering from mental health issues and there is much more awareness in schools for spotting potential problems and intervening early to get support.”

“Schools have referred these pupils because they are concerned about their mental health and know that the child needs more specialist support than could (and should) be offered by school staff.”

“However, many of these children are not meeting the thresholds set by Camhs – many are concerned about how high these thresholds are.

“The other concern is about what support those children can then get if they have been turned down by CAMHS.”


The NSPCC is now calling on the government to invest in early support services for children.

It said its Childline service has seen a twenty six per cent increase in the number of counselling sessions with children about mental health issues over the past four years.

Mr Wanless said “Childline plays a vital role in supporting children with their mental health, and many turn to us when they are struggling to get access to specialist treatment. Early counselling from Childline could also help relieve the pressure on CAMHS.”

“We have seen a marked increase in counselling about mental health, and fully expect it to continue. It is vital that government urgently provides more funding to Childline and help children who don’t have access to support elsewhere.”

Separate figures published by charity the Mental Health Foundation show that one in three young adults aged between 18 and 24 had self-harmed because of stress and thirty nine per cent had experienced suicidal feelings.

A government spokesperson said: “Making sure children and young people get the right support when they need it is imperative. That is why are allocating £300 million, over and above the additional £1.4 billion being invested in specialist services, to provide more support linked to schools.”

“This includes new mental health support teams to provide trained mental health workers to work closely with schools – including primary schools – to provide quicker support to children.”

“We know we need to do more which is why we have extended our schools and NHS link pilot to deliver training in 20 more areas of the country this year. This will improve links between up to 1,200 schools and their local specialist mental health service.”



How to look after your mental health

Mental health is so vitally important. Fortunately there are lots of practical things we can do to look after our mental wellbeing – and help others to do the same.

mental health


Numbers to call

Samaritans: ☎ 116 123

Childline: ☎ 0800 11 11

MIND: ☎ 0300 123 3393

Rethink Mental Illness: ☎ 0300 5000 927


May 14, 2018