Mental health referrals for children surge by more than HALF during Covid

The number of children and young people needing mental health support has hit an 'unprecedented' high after surging by more than half after the start of lockdown.

There were 395,369 referrals to NHS Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services between April and October last year, a rise of 52 per cent on 2020. Lockdown began on March 23, 2020, with most restrictions in England ending in July 2021.

Official figures also showed an increase in emergency referrals to crisis care teams, which handle the most serious cases. These were up by 28% in 2021 compared to 2019, before the pandemic.

Mental health charity YoungMinds, which uncovered the data, said record demand combined with a lack of funding for vital NHS services meant many families were not getting the help they needed.

Joe Plumb Children's Mental Health Crisis
Mental health services for children and young people are seeing 'unprecedented' demand

YoungMinds saw the number of calls to its email, web chat and crisis text line – for children and young people up to the age of 25 - rise by almost half (48%) between 2019 and last year.

Joe Plumb Children's Mental Health Crisis
Gary Kibble - Chief Marketing and Digital Officer at Wickes

Gary Kibble is Chief Marketing and Digital Officer at Wickes, which has been in a partnership with YoungMinds since 2020.

The retailer has already raised nearly £1.8million of its £2.5m target through its '50p ask' initiative, where customers donate 50p at the till, as well as through cake sales and bike rides.

Gary and a group of 11 employees want to raise £50,000 by a sponsored paddle along the Thames from Cricklade in Wiltshire to Tower Bridge.

'We'll be paddling 35 miles a day, ten hours a day, for five days at the beginning of July, and we'll camp every night,' he said.

"It'll be hardcore. Paddling is not my thing, but we've had some help from British Canoeing, who've taught us skills such as portage, when you carry the kayaks around the locks, and given us exercises: it's all about upper body strength and core strength."

Any money raised will fund YoungMinds' work, which includes campaigning on issues affecting young people's mental health, training adults who work with children, and running its helpline for parents.

Gary may not be an experienced canoeist, but feels motivated enough to make it all the way to Tower Bridge.

Joe Plumb Children's Mental Health Crisis and WIckes Fundraiser For YoungMinds
Gary and his Wickes team - seen here training -wanted to help after realising the scale of the problem affecting children and young people after the pandemic

'When you've got a purpose that is close to your heart, it makes a difference,' he said. 'I have three young children, and saw how the pandemic and lockdowns led to high levels of anxiety and trepidation, amplifying these emotions, and that is at the core of this.

'I know how overwhelmed the system is – people are struggling to access counselling and support services, and I'm genuinely very worried about that. This is my opportunity to do something about it.'

To donate to Gary and his Wickes team's fundraising campaign, please click HERE.

The charity is calling for a nationwide rollout of early support hubs for under 25s.

YoungMinds volunteer Bruno, 24, struggled with his mental health at school and believes he would have benefitted from the service.

'I left education at 18 feeling I had failed after a lack of support from my school and the NHS,' he said.

'Having reached the age of 18 and been on the waiting list for NHS mental health support for two years, I was moved to the adult waiting list, only to begin the long waiting times once again.

'If the last two years have taught us anything, it's that we must be mindful and supportive of those around us.

'Therefore, a range of measures that support young people and our mental health in different parts of our lives, not just at school, will not only benefit us but society as a whole.'

Joe Plumb Children's Mental Health Crisis Young Minds
If the last two years have taught us anything, it's that we must be mindful and supportive of those around us

The Royal College of Psychiatrists is one of many groups to speak out on the 'devastating' impact of Covid on youngsters' mental health, calling the current situation 'alarming'.

One in six children aged 6 to 19 now have a 'probable mental disorder', the Mental Health of Children and Young People in England Survey found in 2021.

The NHS study revealed 58.2% of 17 to 19 year olds had possible eating problems (up from 44.6% in 2017) while over half (57.2%) of those aged 17 to 23 were having issues sleeping.

One counsellor working in south-west London, who asked not to be named for professional reasons, said lockdown had 'definitely' had an impact on her clients, who are mainly children and young people.

'This is due to a variety of reasons, and of course these vary according to individual circumstances, but the most common factors include decreased social contact and opportunity for sport and other activities, an unfavourable environment for working or studying at home, difficulties focusing online, excessive screen time disrupting sleep, and general health anxiety around Covid.'

Joe Plumb Children's Mental Health Crisis NHS Digital
This graph shows the percentage of children or young people with a 'probably mental disorder', according to the Mental Health of Children and Young People in England Survey in 2021. Source: NHS Digital

This graph shows the percentage of children or young people with a 'probably mental disorder', according to the Mental Health of Children and Young People in England Survey in 2021. Source: NHS Digital

The mother, whose teenage daughter relapsed into anorexia during the pandemic, said: 'Covid has been devastating for my daughter and for our family.

'She has anorexia and was discharged from an inpatient unit last year, but the disruption to her normal routines and socialising really affected her recovery.

'She was spending a lot less time doing the things she enjoys and a lot more time alone with her thoughts.

'Unfortunately, she relapsed, becoming so unwell she was admitted to hospital and sectioned.

'After 72 days in hospital with no specialist eating disorder bed becoming available, we brought her home where I had to tube feed her for ten weeks.

'My daughter urgently needed specialist help for this life-threatening illness, but services are completely overwhelmed because so many young people need help. It's a terrifying situation for patients and families to be in.'

Children's Mental Health Crisis Covid Joe Plumb
The percentage of youngsters who were categorised as having a possible eating problem based on their responses to the survey

The percentage of youngsters who were categorised as having a possible eating problem based on their responses to the survey

Olly Parker, head of external affairs at YoungMinds, said: 'We know from parents who have been using our helpline and other services how hard life has been for many children over the last year,' he said.

'Even before the pandemic, many young people struggled to access support from mental health services.

'But those services are now facing unprecedented demand and the reality is too many young people and families just can't get the help they need.

'The evidence is clear that a greater range of mental health support for young people must be made available.'


What to do if you're a parent who needs help for their child

If your child is struggling and needs some help, you may be feeling really worried and unsure where to start. Remember that you and your child are not alone. There are services, professionals and organisations that can help you, and information about how to access them.

Trying to find the right help for your child and finding your way around different services can be really tiring at times. Remember to look after yourself as you go – and to remind yourself that you're doing your best and it's not always easy.


Your local GP can discuss concerns about your child's mental health, and could refer them to other services, such as CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services). You could access counselling through CAMHS and other NHS services.

Speaking to professionals can sometimes feel daunting, and it might feel difficult to find the right words to explain what's going on or what help you think your child needs. Parents in similar situations have found that the tips below can help.

1. Make a note of your concerns Before speaking to a professional, make a note of your concerns and the times you have noticed particularly worrying behaviours or feelings. You can do this really simply by making a list on your phone. You can then take this with you to appointments to give the professional a clear sense of your child's situation, and to support any requests for referrals.

2. Explore local services If you're on a waiting list for help, explore whether there are services available locally that you might be able to access in the meantime. Your child might also be able to get more immediate online support from organisations like The Mixand Kooth. You can find other online services and helplines at the bottom of this page.

3. Try talking to other parents As you find your way around local services, try talking to other parents who have been through this, or speak to any friends or family who might be able to advise you about where to get started. For example, if you know anyone who works in mental health support, they might have a good idea about what's available locally.

4. Follow up after the appointment Where possible, follow up by email after appointments – for example with teachers or other staff at your child's school – to confirm what's been agreed. Then check in a week or two later to find out what's happened. This is a good way to keep things moving.

Source: YoungMinds.