Mental health services -  a postcode lottery

 6 month waiting list for some children wanting face-to-face assessments by specialist local mental health services

Young girl on a bed looking worriedFigures from 35 NHS Mental Health Trusts, obtained through Freedom of Information requests, show a postcode lottery across England in the amount of time young people have to wait.

The average waiting time between referral and assessment by local Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) ranged from just a week in some areas to more than 26 weeks in others; with an average waiting time of nearly 2 months. 

Even after waiting so long, tens of thousands of children won’t receive treatment.  


"I am depressed and anxious and really worried about my mental health. I saw my GP 8 months ago and was referred to CAMHS. As of today I still haven’t heard anything from them and I am fed up waiting."
ChildLine caller

Rejected cases triggering a mental health ‘time bomb’ 

Wide variations in the length of time children had to wait were discovered within neighbouring counties, but also within the same cities in some cases – with differences in waiting times of up to 4 months across these areas.

Last month, the NSPCC warned of a mental health ‘time bomb’ after finding out that following assessment, a fifth of all children (39,652 out of 186,453 cases) referred to CAMHS were rejected.

The charity fears children with problems associated with abuse and neglect are slipping through the net after failing to meet high clinical thresholds for treatment by local NHS services.

Not all abused children will have a mental health problem but they are at greater risk of chronic conditions including depression and post-traumatic stress disorder if they don’t get proper therapeutic support early on.

Last year, ChildLine carried out 85,000 counselling sessions, with young people with mental health-related concerns – equal to 1 every 6 minutes. Around 5,000 of these children also sought help for sexual or physical abuse. 

Callers frequently talk about struggling to deal with a range of mental health difficulties, including those associated with abuse, and problems getting the right kind of therapy. 

Peter Wanless, Chief Executive said:
“It’s totally unacceptable that this kind of postcode lottery exists with these vital specialist children’s mental health services. We know that large numbers of children, coping with the complex emotional and psychological fallout of abuse, seek help through these services...

"“Recorded abuse against children is at record levels but doesn’t come near reflecting the overall scale of this crime. As more and more children bravely speak out about the sickening things that have been done to them it is essential that enough tailored services are there to support them. "

“CAMHS are just a part of the picture. We must urgently see improvements in access to child friendly trauma-based support, when children need it most, so they can recover and rebuild their childhoods wherever they live.”

"My uncle used to sexually abuse me when I was little. After a while I started to suffer from depression and began to hear voices in my head. They tell me to cut myself or sometimes to kill myself. I work with a mental health worker at school and she referred me to a counsellor, but it didn’t help; they didn’t really take in what I was telling them."
ChildLine caller, aged 16

Further information

Mental health and suicidal thoughts

Get advice and support on helping a child id they're struggling with their mental health. 

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Mental health and suicidal thoughts in children

Learn about the signs of mental health problems and suicidal thoughts in children - and find out how you can help them. 
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Signs, symptoms and effects of child abuse and neglect

The signs of child abuse aren't always obvious, and a child might not tell anyone what's happening to them. Sometimes children don't understand that what's happening is abuse. 
Find out more

How safe are our children? 2015

Our report compiles and analyses the most robust and up-to-date child protection data that exists across the 4 nations in the UK for 2015.
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