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.
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.
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.
'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.'
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'.