Mental health concerns as 22% more children seeking care, study shows

A total of 9,672 young people were referred to CAMHS between January and March 2022.

Scotland sees 22% increase in children referred to CAMHS, according to Public Health Scotland figures iStock

New figures from Public Health Scotland have revealed a substantial increase in the number of children referred for mental health treatment.

A total of 9,672 children and young people were referred to specialist child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) for treatment in the quarter ending March 2022.

This includes referrals for issues such as anxiety and depression, and shows a 22.4% increase in numbers from March 2021 when the same figure was at 7,902.

The number of children being seen within a target time of being referred has also gone up.

For the quarter ending March 22, 73.2% were seen by CAMHS within 18 weeks of referral – an increase from 70.5% the previous quarter.

The Public Health Scotland (PHS) figures also show a slight increase from March 2021 when 72.7% were starting treatment within the noted time period.

However, 26.8% were not seen within the maximum target time, with a total of 1,322 young people waiting over a year for treatment by the end of the last quarter.

The Scottish Children’s Services Coalition (SCSC), an alliance specialist children’s services providers, has warned that this may become a “mental health emergency”, and called for greater investment into mental health resources for children.

A spokesperson for the SCSC commented: “We have been warning for some time that we are facing a potential lost generation of vulnerable children and young people, whose mental health is being impacted even further by the Covid-19 pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis.

“Adding to this are cuts in public services, which will impact especially on local government and the third sector, responsible for many of the preventative and early intervention services supporting those with mental health problems.”

Dr Helen Smith, chair of the CAMHS Faculty, Royal College of Psychiatrists in Scotland, said: “While there’s been a slight increase in the number of young people waiting to be seen, it’s still quite a considerable distance from the Scottish Government’s own target of 90%.”

She added that the services had been “left in the dark” about the impact of finance secretary Kate Forbes’ recent spending review on mental health services, claiming that the lack of clarity makes it difficult to attract and retain much-needed staff.

She continued: “The Scottish Government must now focus on the mental health crisis of our children and young people and outline how they will meet their own target by 2026.

Mental Wellbeing minister Kevin Stewart called long waiting times for treatment “unacceptable”, and highlighted the government’s prior commitments to improving mental health resources in Scotland.

He said: “We have invested £40m to improve CAMHS and to clear all backlogs by March 2023.

“We are also continuing to work directly with health boards with the poorest performance to ensure the 18-week waiting time standard is met.

“We have also provided an additional £15m to local authorities to deliver locally based mental health and wellbeing support for five to 24-year olds in their communities, providing alternative support options and ensured access to counselling support services in all secondary schools.

“We have started work to implement the National CAMHS Service Specification, which sets out the levels of service that children, young people and families can expect from CAMHS across Scotland, and will publish a new long-term Mental Health Workforce Plan in the first half of this parliament.

“Under this government CAMHS staffing has nearly doubled by 95.6% and we continue to create new posts.

“This package of commitments is designed to help ensure the right help is available, in the right place, at the right time.”

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