Last reviewed 28 September 2021

New analysis from the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP) has found that twice as many children and young people are being referred to mental health services than before the pandemic.

The RCP said that between April and June this year, almost 200,000 referrals were made to the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Services (CAMHS) for under-18s, which is an increase of 134% on the same period last year, and 96% on 2019.

Analysis of data from NHS Digital showed that 8552 children and young people were referred for urgent or emergency crisis care in that three-month period; 80% more than last year and 64% more than 2019.

By the end of June there was a total of 340,694 children in contact with CAMHS, which is 51% higher than before the pandemic.

RCP Child and Adolescent Faculty Chair Dr Elaine Lockhart said the figures reflected what frontline psychiatrists are seeing in their clinics on a daily basis. She said the pandemic has had a devastating effect on the nation’s mental health but it was becoming “increasingly clear that children and young people are suffering terribly”.

The RCP is calling for a national network of early support hubs to provide easy-to-access, drop-in mental health support for young people, on a self-referral basis.

This comes as a BBC investigation found children struggling with mental health problems during the pandemic were facing "agonisingly" long waits for treatment.

Data from half of England's CAMHS showed one in five seen in the past year waited over 12 weeks for care. The situation has become so bad that doctors reported distressed children were ending up at A&E as they had nowhere else to go.

NHS England responded to the BBC saying it was in the process of significantly expanding access to services. By 2023 it said investment would help support another 345,000 children and young people in addition to the 420,000 being seen currently. This includes the rollout of school mental health teams designed to provide earlier support to children than CAMHS services.

A spokeswoman for NHS England said: "There is no doubt that the pandemic has turned children and young people's lives upside down."