Suicidal children have to ‘make several attempts’ before accessing NHS mental health services

Posted: 7th November 2023

Children feel they have to attempt suicide multiple times before they get treatment from NHS mental health services, the former children’s commissioner has warned.

Anne Longfield said that schoolchildren were aware that NHS mental health infrastructure was “buckling and far from being able to cope with the demand”.

She told the Times Health Commission: “When I first became children’s commissioner in 2015, the thing that children talked about most often was mental health. They said they knew they couldn’t get help and treatment easily, because there just wasn’t enough help to go around.

“Some said, we know that we’ve almost got to try and take our own life before we can get help. And I thought that was pretty shocking at the time. Now, young people are saying not only do they have to try to take their own life, they have to try and take their own life several times, and they say there will be an assessment of levels of intent within that.”

Longfield, who was children’s commissioner for England from 2015 to 2021, said the current generation of children had become experts in mental health services and were aware help may only available in extreme circumstances.

This has led to long waiting lists for specialist NHS services, which are seeing 700,000 children and young people a year.

The Times Health Commission also heard on Tuesday that worsening health inequalities were fuelling child poverty, which is damaging children’s life chances.

Children born in Blackpool, which has the lowest life expectancy in the UK at 78, have the same healthy life expectancy as those born in Angola.

People in the most deprived areas of England are four times as likely to die early from preventable health conditions, such as diet-related heart disease, than those in wealthy areas.

Baroness Casey, a government official working in social welfare and the former deputy director of Shelter UK, said that poverty is a key driver of mental health problems in children.

Casey said that the pandemic had “ripped the country apart in terms of the divide between the haves and the have-nots” with some families unable to get food and warmth.

She said that deprivation “casts a long shadow over families” and causes intergenerational health problem.

Casey added that the brunt of poverty often fell on women: “There will be women who are mums going to food banks, larders, community kitchens … the shame and humiliation they feel because they feel they’re failing their families and their children, and they go hungry.”

The Metropolitan Police will reduce the amount of mental health calls officers attend in London as part of a new initiative with the NHS.

The scheme — known as Right Care, Right Person — will introduce a threshold for police response reduce the time officers are spending on policing mental health.

From November 1, police will not attend medical calls where a healthcare professional is more appropriate, and no longer look for people who have walked out of mental health facilities or hospitals.

The Times investigates the crisis facing the health and social care system in England. Find out more about The Times Health Commission

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