Posted: 04 July 2019

Why are young people struggling to get the mental health support they need?

There are many challenges facing children and young people who need support with their mental and emotional health. Lack of services, long waiting times and strict assessment criteria can make life very difficult for children and young people who need support.

Our latest briefing, Finding Help, reveals how young people and their families navigate the system to get the mental health support they need. 

Where do young people go for mental health support?

We found that GPs were the most popular source of support among parents looking for help with their child's mental health, The second most popular support system was school. 

The support available in schools can vary across the country, with some schools having access to counselling services and others not. Given that schools were the second most popular source of support, just under a third of parents surveyed did not know whether counselling was available in their child’s school.  

What happens if there are serious concerns about a young person's mental health?

If there are serious concerns about a young person’s mental health, then they will be referred to NHS Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).

Last year, almost 200,000 young people were referred to specialist mental health services Between January and December last year, an estimated 185,784 children and young people aged 10-17 in England were referred to the specialist service of CAMHS. Yet not all of these young people will be accepted by CAMHS to receive treatment. Their condition will be deemed as not serious enough for support.

A young person may wait 83 days before their first treatment session

Even when a young person is accepted for treatment, they will face long waiting times. On average we estimate that a young person will wait 83 days from referral to their first treatment appointment. 

How can we improve the mental health support for young people?

It is vital that children and young people get the right support with their mental health at the right time. There are many reforms proposed for the children’s mental health system, with an increased offer of support being made available in schools and plans to increase access within the NHS. Whilst these reforms are welcome, there is still the risk that some children miss out on the support they need.

More support needs to be made available in school through counselling, and support within the community through services like open access hubs like our PAUSE service in Birmingham, to ensure young people are able to access support at an early stage. 

Useful mental health resources


By Charlotte Rainer - Policy team