School referrals for mental health treatment rise by over a third

Number of referrals by schools seeking mental health treatment for pupils has shot up by over a third in the last 3 years.

Teenage boy looking at his mobile phoneIn a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to NHS Trusts in England, we found that 123,713 referrals were made by schools seeking professional mental health help between 2014/15 and 2017/181.

The request also showed:

  • 56% of referrals came from primary schools
  • on average 183 referrals were made per school day in 2017/182.

Where information was provided about the outcome of the referral, almost one third were declined specialist Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) treatment (this is based on a subset of the data)3.

Rising demand for mental health support across the NHS, schools and the voluntary sector is placing the system under increased pressure, jeopardising the well-being of thousands of children and young people. Community and voluntary services, such as Childline, are a lifeline to children dealing with mental health issues.

The news follows a Select Committee report last week which found that the Government’s £300m plans to improve mental health provision for children “lacks ambition and will provide no help to the majority of children who desperately need it.”

"I suffer with anxiety and panic attacks and find it difficult to leave the house or get out of bed. I was referred to CAMHS but I was on a waiting list for 8 months and during that time my anxiety got worse so I never went because I was too scared."
17-year-old girl contacting Childline

Are you there?: our mental health campaign

At the beginning of 2018, we launched our Are you there? campaign, calling on the Government to invest funding into early support services for children.

Our Childline service offers a lifeline to children, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The service has seen a 26% increase in the number of counselling sessions from children regarding mental and emotional health issues in the last 4 years (Bentley et al, 2017). But right now, our Childline counsellors can only respond to 3 out of 4 children who need our help.

On Wednesday 9 May, 4 young Childline campaigners handed in a petition to No. 10 Downing Street which contained 22,411 signatures calling on the government to increase its funding to the service. 

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Peter Wanless, NSPCC Chief Executive, said:
“Our research shows schools are increasingly referring children for specialist mental health treatment, often when the child is at crisis point.

“Childline plays a vital role in supporting children with their mental and emotional health, and many turn to us when they are struggling to get access to specialist treatment.

“We have seen a marked increase in counselling about mental health, and fully expect it to continue. It is vital that Government urgently provides more funding to Childline and help children who don’t have access to support elsewhere.”


  1. 53 Trusts provided time series data for the total number of CAMHS referrals they have had from education settings, 25,140 referrals for 2014-15 and 34,757 for 2017-18. We do expect the number to be much higher as some of the Trusts didn’t provide information for all four years.

  2. Not all of those 53 Trusts provided breakdowns for referrals eligible and not eligible for CAMHS treatment. Of those 45 Trusts that did respond a total of 6,129 referrals were rejected in 2014-15 and 9,038 referrals were rejected in 2017-18.

  3. The NSPCC sent 66 NHS Trust in England an FOI request asking for the number of CAMHS referrals they have had from education settings in the last three years (April 1 to March 31, 2014-15, 2015-16, 2016-17 & 2017-18). This also included an age breakdown (11 and under, 12-15 and 16+) and the number of referrals who were and weren’t eligible for treatment.